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Obama signs $607 billion 'defense' bill, despite Guantanamo restrictions

Published: November 26, 2015
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Source: Global Post

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a 607-billion-U.S.-dollar annual defense policy bill despite its continued ban on transferring detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison to the United States.

Blasting the Republican-controlled Congress for maintaining language that hampers the closure of the Guantanamo military prison in the bill, Obama called the restrictions contained in the bill "unwarranted and counterproductive."

"As I have said before, the continued operation of this facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists," said Obama in a statement.

Obama's statement also suggested some Guantanamo provisions in the defense bill might violate the Constitution.

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"The executive branch must have the flexibility, with regard to the detainees who remain at Guantanamo, to determine when and where to prosecute them, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests, and when and where to transfer them consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy," he said.

"Under certain circumstances, the provisions in this bill concerning detainee transfers would violate constitutional separation of powers principles," Obama said.

Obama vetoed the original defense policy bill on Oct. 22, citing the maneuver by the Republican-controlled Congress to put an extra 38 billion dollar in war funding account to skirt spending caps as one vital reason.

Concerns about Congress' continued objection to the Guantanamo closure plan were also mentioned in Obama's veto decision in October, and the upcoming plan by the Pentagon to close the notorious military prison would again pit the Obama administration against the Congress in a fierce battle.

As the end of Obama's presidency is looming, the prospect of closing Guantanamo detention center, a campaign promise made by Obama in 2008, becomes dim.

After months of delay, the Pentagon was expected to send the Congress soon its long-stalled closure plan of the Guantanamo detention center.

According to previous media reports which cited sources familiar with the plan, the Pentagon would provide U.S. lawmakers with possible domestic prison sites for housing Guantanamo detainees whom the Pentagon regards as too dangerous to be transferred safely to other countries.

Currently, there are 107 detainees still in the Guantanamo detention facility, among whom 48 are eligible for transfer to other countries. To close the detention center, the Obama administration had long sought to bring the rest of the prison population to a facility in the United States but to no avail.

Under the current U.S. law, without the consent of the Congress, the White House is banned from spending money on moving detainees to U.S. homeland.

The expected Pentagon plan would represent a last-gasp effort by the Obama administration to convince opponents in the Congress to allow transfer to the U.S. soil of dozens of Guantanamo detainees, who were captured and detained without trials during the U.S. counter-terrorism campaign after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

If the Pentagon plan is rejected by the Congress, another alternative for Obama would be resorting to his executive authority to unilaterally close the detention center.

The White House had suggested that Obama might try to circumvent the Congress if it refuses to give the Pentagon plan the green light.

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