Obama Gitmo plan: Kick out half, bring in half

© Bob Strong
The Obama administration wants to step up transfers of 52 Guantanamo prisoners to foreign countries and bring in the rest to prisons on US soil, allowing the notorious military-run legal black hole to be closed, a presidential aide said.

“Why hand over this albatross to the president’s successor?” Lisa Monaco, a leading national security aide for President Barack Obama told the Aspen Security Conference Saturday.

The White House renewed the effort to shut down the prison on Cuban soil, where captives in the US War on Terror had been kept since it was launched by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

Obama pledged to see the site closed on his first day in office, but so far failed to overcome congressional resistance. Nevertheless, the number of inmates in Guantanamo during his tenure reduced from 242 to the current 116.

Now operating the prison has become excessively costly per capita, Monaco said.

“Today, right now,” she said, the government is spending “$3 million per detainee, per year, to house them in Guantanamo. We can be spending that money on a host of national security threats that we’ve been talking about all week.”

READ MORE: ‘Doesn’t make any fiscal sense’ to keep Gitmo open – DHS secretary

The argument seemed to resonate with Senator John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to whom the Obama administration is to present the new plan shortly. Speaking after Monaco, the hawkish lawmaker called Guantanamo “a blot on the honor of the United States of America.” McCain said he wanted “to appeal to my fiscal conservative friends that you have to save taxpayers a couple of” million dollars a year.

The White House wants to expedite the transfer of 52 Gitmo detainees to foreign countries for resettlement. It wants to keep the 64 inmates deemed too dangerous to be released to ‘supermax’ prisons in the US, a move that is currently prohibited by legislation.

"We are going to whittle down this group to what I refer to as the irreducible minimum, who would have to be brought here to a secure location, held under the laws of war, continuing under military detention," Monaco said. "That’s the only way we’re going to be able to close Guantanamo."

Some of the captives have spent more than a dozen years in Guantanamo prison without any trial or even charges brought against them. Human rights activists call the situation deplorable, saying that the prisoners were denied their right for fair trial and subjected to mistreatment by US officials.