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White House delays release of plan to close Guantánamo, official says

Plan was to go before Congress before the end of the year but could now wait until 2016, Pentagon official says

Barack Obama’s administration has delayed plans to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba for weeks and possibly longer, a Pentagon official told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

The president intended to present his plan to Congress last week, but now there is no target date, said the official, who declined to be named due to a lack of authorization to speak about the timeline.

“It could be after Thanksgiving. It could be after Christmas, it could be after the new year,” the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said in an email to Al Jazeera that the proposal had never had a “specific timeline,” and that it would be “delivered to Congress as soon as it is complete.”

Obama first vowed to close the controversial prison camp in 2008, during his first campaign run for the presidency. But progress has been slow, angering civil liberties activists who argue that detainees have been tortured and that holding them indefinitely deprives them of their right of due process.Complicating matters, Republicans object to transferring many of the detainees because they argue they remain national security risks, even if held captive in facilities besides Guantanamo.

After winning office for a second time in 2012, Obama managed to whittle the number of detainees at the prison camp — which, at its peak, held 684 prisoners — to just 107 people

In late October, the United States released the last British citizen held at Guantánamo, 46-year-old Shaker Aamer, after more than a decade in detention.

The Pentagon said in August that the administration would issue a plan to close the facility “sometime” after Congress returned from its August recess. But earlier this month, Obama signed into law a defense-spending bill that includes language complicating the closure process.

Another potential obstacle has been the opposition of Republican governors in states where Guantánamo detainees could be potentially housed. Kansas and South Carolina both have military bases where prisoners could be held, but officials in both states have said they have no interest in accommodating anyone from Guantánamo.

In August, the U.S. Justice Department also blocked the release of detainee Tariq Ba Odah, who had earlier been cleared for transfer. Ba Odah was reportedly near death because he had been engaging in a hunger strike to protest conditions at the prison, and guards had been force-feeding him as a result.


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