While at a town hall event in Cleveland, Ohio on March 18, President Barack Obama was asked what he would do differently if it were his first day in office.
“I would’ve closed Guantanamo on the first day,” the president responded.
Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, currently holds 122 prisoners, suspected of working with, training to be, or assisting terrorists and terrorist groups across the globe. One of the former detainees, Abu Sufian bin Qumu, was released from the controversial prison in 2007 and sent to Libya, which released him a year later. Early last year, it was discovered he had participated in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Obama explained that he didn’t believe closing Guantanamo was a priority in 2009 because he thought there was bipartisan support to close it in the future.
“I thought that we had enough consensus there that we could do it (in a deliberate) fashion," he said. "But the politics of it got tough, and people got scared by the rhetoric around it. Once that set in, then the path of least resistance was just to leave it open, even though it’s not who we are as a country and it’s used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists."
The president has tried to eliminate Guantanamo in the past. In January 2009, he signed an executive order to close Guantanamo within a year and later told an Illinois prison to be prepared to accept and hold Guantanamo prisoners at its facility. After Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, this idea was put on hold indefinitely.
Obama later said that, “Instead we’ve had to just chip away at it, year after year after year, but I think in that first couple of weeks we could’ve done it quicker.”
In an interview with Playboy magazine earlier this week, former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the president’s wish to close Guantanamo.
“It’s still there for a reason," he said. "You’ve still got a couple hundred really bad guys, terrorists, who you need to have some place you can keep them. You don’t want to bring them to the United States and give them the rights and prerogatives they would have as an American citizen in a legal proceeding. If anything, we’ve let too many of them go, in terms of those who have returned to the battlefield."
Photo Credit: Guantanamo Naval Base, Wikimedia Commons