Obama takes last chance to close Guantanamo Bay

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Keeping the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay open is “contrary to our values,” President Obama said Tuesday, as he released a plan that examined 13 potential sites for transferring the suspected terrorists but did not propose any specific location.

His plan sets up a last-year confrontation with Congress about a campaign promise made eight years ago. Terrorists use Guantanamo as propaganda to recruit, and maintaining it harms U.S. national security, he said.

The plan has three elements beyond closing the prison, Obama said. More detainees will be safely transferred, reviewing the threat posed by detainees who are not eligible for transfer, and identifying those eligible for military trials.

“This plan has my full support,” Obama said.

Obama said closing Guantanamo was something his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, supported, as did his 2008 Republican challenge, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Since then, however, the politics have got in the way, he said.

Obama said he was “very clear-eyed” about the challenges of closing Guantanamo. “If it were easy it would have happened years ago,” he said.

McCain, who now chairs the Armed Services Committee, called the plan flimsy and said his committee would hold hearings on it soon.

“What we received today is a vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo, let alone a coherent policy to deal with future terrorist detainees,” McCain said in a statement. “After years of rhetoric, the president has still yet to say how and where he will house both current and future detainees, including those his administration has deemed as too dangerous to release.”

McCain said Obama had missed “a major chance to convince the Congress and the American people that he has a responsible plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”

The plan does not indicate the prisons in the United States under consideration to transfer detainees, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

“The administration seeks an active dialogue with Congress on this issue and looks forward to working with Congress to identify the most appropriate location as soon as possible,” Cook said.

The report looked at existing facilities in South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado, as well as new facilities at unnamed military bases across the country.

It would cost $290 million to $475 million for the Department of Defense to renovate an existing state or federal prison, which would be dedicated to holding only Defense detainees, the official said. But the Pentagon estimates it could save $65 million to $85 million a year, recouping the one-time costs in about five years, though the official said the numbers are “somewhat rough and notional” because Congress has not appropriated the money necessary to do a complete site assessment.