The Obama administration is in the final stages of plans to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, the White House press secretary said Wednesday. Barack Obama pledged to close the prison while campaigning for president in 2007, and soon after taking office in 2009 he signed an executive order to close the facility within one year.
But since then, deadline extensions, moratoriums and political opposition have stalled the plan to close the prison, which opened under President George W. Bush in 2002 -- in the wake of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 20o1. It houses suspected terrorists, due to allegations of torture and other human rights violations.
But now the Obama administration is in the "final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly" close the prison, press secretary Josh Earnest said, as CNN reported, adding that closing the facility "has been something that our national security officials have been working on for quite some time."
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The revelation came in response to questions prompted by a New York Times article on Wednesday, suggesting that the White House was "faltering" in its current push to close the prison due to legislative opposition and indecision from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
“This is a goal that the entire national security team is working together to fulfill -- from the White House to the Departments of Defense, State and Justice, as well as the intelligence community,” Lisa O. Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, told the New York Times on Tuesday. “The safety of Americans is our first priority, and each transfer decision involves careful vetting and negotiation of detailed security arrangements. These deliberations take time because these are important decisions.”
The Guantanamo Bay prison, which currently houses 116 prisoners, has been internationally criticized for having personnel use methods of torture, including waterboarding, on detainees.
The naval facility in Guantanamo Bay has also been a source of tension between the United States and Cuba, even as relations between the two countries have begun to thaw. At the opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, the Cuban foreign minister requested "the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo," CNN reported.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry deferred the request, saying that "at this time there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station," CNN reported.