President Barack Obama has signaled his intention to shrink the prison population of Guantanamo Bay even further before he hands over his office to President-elect Donald Trump. Obama had pledged to shut down the controversial prison during his 2008 campaign, but his efforts have been repeatedly denied by Congress.
On Dec. 20, the Obama administration gave Congress notice that it planned to transfer several Guantanamo Bay detainees out of the prison. The notification arrived on the deadline of 30 days of prior notice of transfers before Obama’s departure on Jan. 20, CNN reports.
When Obama assumed office in January 2009, Guantanamo Bay held 242 detainees. Currently, only 59 prisoners remain, with the departed detainees either being transferred to different facilities or released back to their home countries.
Of the remaining detainees, 22 have been ruled eligible for transfer while the remaining prisoners have been deemed too dangerous for relocation. White House officials have indicated that the Obama administration will transfer 17 to 18 prisoners who have been cleared for relocation.
The move during the final weeks of Obama's presidency underscores the tension between him and Congress over the controversial prison. While he has asserted that Guantanamo Bay undermines U.S. moral authority abroad without making Americans safer, GOP lawmakers have asserted that the facility is necessary to house prisoners who are considered to be dangerous threats to national security.
On Dec. 7, White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated that Obama supporters who are disappointed in his failure to close down the prison should place the blame on Congress, Independent Journal Review reports.
"We have been deeply dismayed at the obstacles that Congress has erected… This is a political situation, that members of Congress in both parties, to be fair, have allowed to persist, that prevents this kind of common sense policy from being implemented and that's deeply disappointing to the president," Earnest said.
Earlier in December, Obama expressed that disappointment during his address to U.S. military service members at MacDill Air Force Base.
"The politics of fear has led Congress to prevent any detainees from being transferred to prisons in the United States," Obama said. "Until Congress changes course, it will be judged harshly by history, and I will continue to do all that I can to remove this blot on our national honor."
In contrast, Obama's successor has previously pledged to double down on the Guantanamo Bay prison population. In February, Trump told supporters that his administration would "load it up with some bad dudes."
On March 4, a poll conducted by CNN/ORC found that 56 percent of respondents opposed the closure of Guantanamo Bay while 40 percent were in favor of shutting down the facility.