The White House has denied a media report that it's planning to close Guantanamo Bay by circumventing Congress. Opposition Republicans have warned the president against unilaterally closing the prison.
The White House said on Friday that it preferred to work with Congress to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, denying a Wall Street Journal report that the president was planning to close the prison through unilateral executive action.
"Our position right now, our policy right now, is seeking support from Congress to lift the restrictions which we feel are misguided," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a press conference on Friday.
According to the journal, White House officials concluded that President Obama had two options. He could either veto an extension of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes the ban on detainee transfers, or he could declare the ban a violation of the powers of the presidency.
Responding to the report, Republican lawmakers warned the president against seeking to close the prison without congressional authorization. Republican Mark Meadows said such a move would be "illegal."
A Gallup poll published in June found that only 29 percent of Americans support closing the detention camp and transferring detainees to the US, while 66 percent of Americans oppose the idea.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, saying that it contradicted American principles of due process and the rule of law.
But in 2010, Congress amended the NDAA to ban transferring detainees out of the prison. President Obama could have vetoed the law, but such a move is considered politically risky, since the NDAA deals with military's budget.
Former President George W. Bush opened Guantanamo Bay after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Many suspected terrorists have been held at the detention camp indefinitely without charge or trial. During the Bush administration, human rights groups such as Amnesty International reported that detainees had been abused and tortured at Guantanamo.
The Bush administration released most of the nearly 800 people detained at the prison. But 149 detainees are still being held at Guantanamo. The Obama administration plans to release 79 to a third country, continue detaining another 37 indefinitely, and refer 23 for prosecution in military commissions.
Ten detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are in pre-trial military commission hearings for their role in the September 11 attacks.
slk/lw (AFP, Reuters)