Obama promises to get Gitmo population below 100 in early 2016

U.S. President Barack Obama © Carlos Barria
President Barack Obama said that he is planning to reduce the number of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center to below 100. He said he expects Congress to back the plan, though not without opposition.

"We will continue to steadily chip away at the population," Obama said at the White House year-end press conference that covered a broad range of topics, including his plan to reduce the population at the detention center on Cuba.

There are currently 107 men being held at Gitmo, 48 of whom have been cleared for release by the government, according to the Pentagon. The Guantanamo Review Task Force declared that the US lacks the evidence to prosecute 48 prisoners, but considers them too dangerous to release. A total of 779 men have been imprisoned at Gitmo since it opened in January 2002.

“Guantanamo continues to be one of the key magnets for jihadi recruitment,” Obama said.

The detention center is a way that terrorists “propagandize and convince somebody here in the United States ‒ who may not have a criminal record or a history of terrorist activity ‒ to start shooting,” the president added, citing internet traffic. “This is part of what they feed, this notion of gross injustice, that America is not living up to its professed ideals.”

Closing Gitmo “is part of our counterterrorism strategy,” he said, noting that the military, diplomatic corps and intelligence agencies all support its closure. The implication was that Congress is the only obstacle to finally obtain his campaign promise of shutting the detention center down.

It was also the first promise Obama made as president.

“It’s really expensive” to house and feed not only the prisoners ‒ who each cost “several million dollars” a year ‒ but also the military and intelligence personnel in charge of the detention center, Obama said. “There are more efficient ways” to detain them, he added.

In its most recent transfer from Gitmo, the Pentagon relocated five Yemeni prisoners to the United Arab Emirates in mid-November.