A shocking new report says President Barack Obama's own Pentagon has been undermining and blocking his efforts to release many prisoners, who are cleared for release, from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for years (video below).
Reuters interviewed multiple current and former members of the Obama administration who say that high-ranking officials at the U.S. Defense Department have refused to release medical records, photos and basic documentation of Gitmo detainees to foreign governments and officials offering to take them.
The Pentagon has also allegedly blocked foreign officials from staying overnight at Guantanamo Bay and limited their time to interview detainees, all in direct contradiction to the orders of the president.
The Pentagon reportedly refused to release the medical records of Tariq Ba Odah, a man from Yemen, who was cleared for release five years ago. Odah has been on hunger strike for seven years, and has reportedly dropped down to 74 pounds.
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Foreign officials wanted to review his medical records to know how to care for Odah, but the military brass refused to release the full records, by citing patient privacy concerns, according to U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters.
Odah's lawyer, Omar Farah, added, "Invoking privacy concerns is a shameless, transparent excuse to mask [Pentagon] intransigence. Mr. Ba Odah has provided his full, informed consent to the release of his medical records."
The foreign officials canceled their meeting with Odah because of the Pentagon's alleged interference.
Interestingly, the Pentagon brass did not obstruct President George W. Bush from releasing 532 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, while Obama has had to struggle to release 131 detainees, notes Reuters.
James Dobbins, who worked in the U.S. State Department, recalled how Pentagon officials delayed for four years the release of four Afghan detainees, who had been cleared.
U.S. officials also said the Pentagon delayed the transfer, for months or years, of six detainees to Uruguay, five to Kazakhstan, one to Mauritania and one to the U.K.
In response to the accusations, Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross, a U.S. Navy commander, told Reuters, "No foreign government or U.S. department has ever notified the Department of Defense that transfer negotiations collapsed due to a lack of information or access provided by the Department of Defense."
Myles Caggins, a White House spokesman, told the news service: "We're all committed to the same goal: safely and responsibly closing the detention facility."
According to Obama administration officials, who did not want to be identified, Gen. John F. Kelly has been instrumental in thwarting the commander in chief's policy of transferring the detainees because he had a son who was killed while fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In response to the report, Kelly told Reuters: "Our staff works closely with the members of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and Joint Task Force Guantanamo to support the visits of all foreign delegations, and have never refused or curtailed one of these visits."
Charles Levinson, who co-wrote the Reuters article about the Pentagon, told Democracy Now! on Dec. 30:
"I think to us outsiders, who aren’t in the White House and in government, it seems as easy as a president just saying, 'If this is what I want, this is the way it should be.'
"And the fact that it’s not that easy sometimes surprises us. I think part of the reason that former Defense Secretary Hagel was removed from office, I mean, there are several factors, but certainly one of them, according to many people, including Hagel himself, was the president’s frustration over the Pentagon’s slow progress transferring prisoners.
"And more recently, Hagel’s successor, Ash Carter, was summoned to the White House just before Labor Day for a one-on-one sitdown with Obama, who according to people briefed on the meeting, told us that Obama gave him sort of a very candid talk about the need to step up progress on this front. And I think, since that talk, there has been some progress.
"And there is a sense that things have gotten somewhat better, although there are still many frustrations. It is expected, for example, that next month, in January, there will be 17 prisoners transferred out.
"So, it does appear that as a Obama has sort of refocused and double down his attentions on this and really given this more attention, there has been some, he has been able to make some headway in getting the Pentagon to do his bidding."