U.S. Undeterred From Closing Guantanamo

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Furor Over Recent Prisoner Exchange Could Hamper Obama Administration’s Plans to Shut Prison.

Obama administration officials said Thursday they would press forward with plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, dismissing the furor over the Taliban prisoner exchange as an anomaly related to the need to repatriate a captured American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“All of the reasons why we need to close Guantanamo remain fully valid,” a senior administration official said Thursday, as the Defense Department announced plans for a June 12 hearing to consider clearing a Kuwaiti detainee, Faez Mohammed Ahmed Al-Kandari, who has spent 12 years at the offshoreprison.

President Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo, located at a U.S. naval base in Cuba, during his first presidential campaign in 2008, and renewed that call last year. He has said Guantanamo symbolizes prisoner abuse, serving as a propaganda tool for extremists and complicating counterterrorism efforts with allies.

The controversy over the Taliban prisoner exchange could further hamper Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo. Congress has for years placed restrictions on his efforts to close the prison. For the Bergdahl exchange, the administration disregarded one of those limits—a statute requiring the administration notify Congress 30 days before transferring detainees.

The decision not to give lawmakers early notice has angered Republicans and Democrats, with some saying they would try to make it harder for the administration to transfer detainees.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) on Thursday sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for the release of legal analysis behind the decision to ignore the notification requirement. “The public deserves a full and transparent accounting of why the administration believed it could disregard the law,” he said.

Another senior administration said of Mr. Obama’s Guantanamo intentions, “I don’t think we have any illusions that the concerns that people have expressed about this transfer will continue to complicate those matters, but he remains firmly committed to closing it.”

Following the exchange of five Taliban members for Sgt. Bergdahl last week, 149 detainees remain at the prison, 78 of whom have been approved for transfer, officials said. All but 20 of those are Yemeni and have cleared a six-agency review, including the Defense, Homeland Security, HOMS +10.47% Justice and State departments with a finding that discharge wouldn’t pose a “significant threat” to the U.S.

“The profile of the 78 approved for transfer is very different from the five” detainees traded for Sgt. Bergdahl, the administration official said. The exchange was spearheaded by officials overseeing Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, officials said.

More than 500 of the nearly 800 men held at the prison since its January 2002 opening were discharged during the George W. Bush administration. Before last week’s prisoner exchange, the Obama administration had transferred only 84 detainees, in part because of restrictions required by Congress after Mr. Obama took office.

The Bush administration selected Guantanamo Bay for the prison complex in late 2001 after its lawyers concluded neither Congress nor the courts could interfere with its treatment of non-U.S. citizens held there.

Subsequent Supreme Court rulings rejected those legal theories, opened detainee treatment to judicial review, and required compliance with prisoner protections under Geneva Convention provisions. But Guantanamo’s legal status—including the degree to which constitutional rights apply to aliens held there—remains unresolved, with the high court declining to hear any cases involving the detention regime during Obama’s presidency.

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