Obama signs defence bill despite Guantanamo restrictions

Washington, Nov 26 (IANS) US President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a $607-billion annual defence policy bill despite its continued ban on transferring detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison to the US.

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”, Xinhua news agency reported.

“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,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama’s statement also suggested some Guantanamo provisions in the defence bill might violate the Constitution.

“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 defence policy bill on Oct. 22, citing the maneuver by the Republican-controlled Congress to put an extra $38 billion 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 centre, 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 centre.

According to previous media reports which cited sources familiar with the plan, the Pentagon would provide the US 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 centre, the Obama administration had long sought to bring the rest of the prison population to a facility in the US but to no avail.

Under the current US law, without the consent of the Congress, the White House is banned from spending money on moving detainees to the US 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 US soil of dozens of Guantanamo detainees, who were captured and detained without trials during the US 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 centre.

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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