Washington (AFP) Jan 7, 2011
Under protest, President Barack Obama Friday signed a huge defense bill that effectively blocks his bid to close Guantanamo Bay, but vowed to repeal the curbs on one of his top national security goals.
Obama could have chosen to veto the legislation, but said he had decided to sign it despite his strong disagreement over the provisions on the camp for terror suspects in Cuba, as it was vital to funding US wars abroad in 2011.
The 725.9-billion-dollar defense spending plan includes language that makes it virtually impossible to shutter the prison by building a substitute jail or relocating prisoners to the US mainland.
Though he did not explicitly threaten to bypass the restrictions, Obama issued a statement voicing his strong opposition to them, and vowed to try to overturn the measures and ensure they were not expanded in future.
"Despite my strong objection to these provisions... I have signed this Act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011," Obama said.
"Nevertheless, my administration will work with the Congress to seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future."
The bill represented another blow to Obama's effort to close Guantanamo which he sees as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, following his failure to live up to a vow to shutter the site during his first year in office.
It effectively put a roadblock on administration efforts to try some Guantanamo Bay inmates in civilian courts, or to house them in a prison built on US soil with federal funds.
In his statement, Obama warned that the bill's ban on federal funding to transfer Guantanamo Bay inmates to the United States was a "dangerous and unprecedented challenge" to his authority to prosecute such suspects.
"The prosecution of terrorists in federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the nation and must be among the options available to us.
"Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our nation's counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security."
He said that other measures designed to prevent the administration transfering detainees to the custody or effective control of foreign countries interfered with US foreign policy and national security imperatives.
"We must have the ability to act swiftly and to have broad flexibility in conducting our negotiations with foreign countries," he said.
The White House has spent substantial time and diplomatic capital trying to cajole foreign partners to accept inmates from Guantanamo.
In a press conference in December, Obama said that he remained committed to closing the camp.
"One of the most powerful tools we have to keep the American people safe is not providing al Qaeda and jihadists recruiting tools for fledgling terrorists," he said.
"And Guantanamo is probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations. And we see it in the websites that they put up. We see it in the messages that they're delivering."
The Obama administration is saddled with a massive political headache as it works through the thicket of legal issues linked to Guantanamo, dating back to the Bush administration's "war on terror" launched in 2001.
In December, officials said the White House had framed a draft executive order that would formalize the indefinite detention of some Guantanamo Bay prisoners but allow them to challenge their incarceration.
The order would cover prisoners at the camp for terror suspects at the whom the administration judges are too dangerous to be freed or unable to be brought to trial, likely included self-proclaimed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
However, the order has not yet been cleared by Obama.
The document would set up a periodic review of the detention status of detainees who cannot be tried in federal courts or by military commissions, the official said.
Some legal experts have said that evidence against many top suspects may not be admissible in traditional courts, because it was obtained by torture, is unreliable or contains classified intelligence information.
The Washington Post reported last year that an inter-agency task force had found that 48 of the 174 detainees at the time in Guantanamo Bay would be held in "prolonged detention."
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Cairo (UPI) Jan 4, 2011
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