WASHINGTON — President Obama did not succeed in closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay — and he left office ripping at Congress for impeding his goal, saying “history will cast a harsh judgment” at those who don’t shut it down.
In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Thursday, Obama claimed Gitmo “undermines American national security” as “terrorists use it for propaganda, its operations drain our military resources during a time of budget cuts, and it harms our partnerships with allies and countries whose cooperation we need against today’s evolving terrorist threat.”
“By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it,” he wrote. “As president, I have tried to close Guantanamo. “…Unfortunately, what had previously been bipartisan support for closure suddenly became a partisan issue.”
He did note “progress” — chipping away at the prison population by transferring 196 detainees to 30 countries willing to take them.
With the announced transfers of four more inmates Thursday, the final population of Guantanamo as Obama leaves office is 41.
The United Arab Emirates accepted three: Russian Ravil Mingazov, Afghan Haji Wali Muhammed, and Yemeni Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim. The last inmate was approved for transfer only last month.
Saudi Arabia took one detainee: Jabran al Qahtani, a Saudi college graduate who officials said received basic jihadi training in Afghanistan and bombmaking instruction in Pakistan.
Eight Yemenis and two Afghans were sent to Oman earlier this week. Five prisoners approved for transfer remain at Gitmo.
“The restrictions imposed by the Congress that prevent us from imprisoning detainees — even to prosecute and secure a life sentence — in the United States make no sense,” Obama continued. “No person has ever escaped one of our super-max or military prisons here, ever. There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open.”
He accused lawmakers “who obstruct efforts to close the facility, given the stakes involved for our security” of abdicating “their responsibility to the American people.”
“They have placed politics above the ongoing costs to taxpayers, our relationships with our allies, and the threat posed to U.S. national security by leaving open a facility that governments around the world condemn and which hinders rather than helps our fight against terrorism,” Obama wrote. “If this were easy, we would have closed Guantanamo years ago. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to bring it to a responsible end.”
“Once again, I encourage the Congress to close the facility and permit more of our brave men and women in uniform serving at Guantanamo Bay to return to meeting the challenges of the 21st century around the globe… Guantanamo is contrary to our values and undermines our standing in the world, and it is long past time to end this chapter in our history.”
In reply to Obama’s letter, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) tweeted, “No.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) — whose state, like Scott’s, was on a potential list of detainee transfer sites — tweeted, “As I’ve said, not on my watch.”