US President Barack Obama has said he plans to renew efforts to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The US is under increasing pressure over the prison amid a growing hunger strike by inmates.
In a White House news conference on Tuesday, Obama said he would try to persuade Congress to end restrictions that have prevented him from closing the prison camp. He told reporters the US must re-evaluate how it handles terrorist suspects.
"I continue to believe we have to close Guantanamo. I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said.
"It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruiting tool for extremists," he added.
His comments were the harshest on the prison in months and appeared to reflect his frustration over his failed attempt to close the prison in this first term.
Obama had campaigned on closing the prison in 2008 and had even signed an order stipulating as much on his first day in office in 2009.
He was blocked by Congress, however, which passed restrictions on the transfer of detainees to the United States and other countries. Further resistance to paying for alternative facilities saw Obama largely abandon the issue.
A spreading hunger strike among inmates has put the prison back into the media spotlight, and called the US human rights record into question.
Growing hunger strike
According to the latest tally from military officers at least 100 of 166 terrorism-related detainees held at the prison are on hunger strike. Of those, 21 are being force fed through nasal tubes. Many have been held at the prison without charge or trial since 2002, when President George W Bush opened it in the aftermath of the al Qaeda attacks on New York on September 11, 2001.
When asked about the hunger strike Obama told the news conference he wished to prevent fatalities at the prison.
"I don't want these individuals to die," the president said.
"Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can, but I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this," he said.
Keeping detainees indefinitely without trial is "contrary to our interests and it needs to stop," Obama added.
He pledged to "reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interest of the American people. And it is not sustainable."
Additional medical personnel were reportedly sent to the prison on Monday to provide extra care for prisoners on hunger strike.
ccp/ch (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)