The White House on Thursday denied a report that President Barack Obama is putting together options for executive action to close the controversial U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in defiance of congressional wishes.
The Wall Street Journal, citing administration officials, reported that the White House was “drafting options” to close the facility by overriding a ban put in place by Congress that prohibits prisoners from being brought to the United States.
“Since the president came into office in 2009 the administration has been examining all possible ways we could get to closure of the facility, but we are not drafting options to override the law,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
“We are continuing to work on transfers (of prisoners) and calling on Congress to lift restrictions.”
Obama has vowed since his 2008 presidential campaign to close the prison camp, which critics say violates U.S. principles by keeping detainees locked up without trial.
Many Republicans consider the prison, which still holds about 150 prisoners, essential in the fight against international terrorism because it allows prisoners to be held outside the United States.
John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Thursday an “overwhelming majority” of the American people opposed allowing prisoners from Guantanamo to enter the United States.
“Even as Islamic jihadists are beheading Americans, the White House is so eager to bring these terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the United States that it is examining ways to thwart Congress and unilaterally re-write the law,” he said in a statement. “Not only is this scheme dangerous, it is yet another example of what will be this administration’s legacy of lawlessness.”
The White House said it would continue to make efforts to repatriate or resettle detainees or prosecute them through federal courts or military commission proceedings. The administration would also proceed in talks with foreign governments to negotiate possible prisoner transfers.
“The administration will also continue to call on members of both parties to work together to ensure that Congress lifts the remaining restrictions and enables the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” Hayden said.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernard Orr)