President Obama announced his renewed desire to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in a press conference yesterday. He said that the prison was created in an understandable reaction to the tragedy of 9/11, “but we are now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists.” He would prefer that the inmates be moved to a high security prison on U.S. soil, which many in Congress oppose.
Obama continued, saying Guantanamo is costly and provocative in foreign relations: “Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.” He will press Congress to lift its restriction on Pentagon intervention in Guantanamo.
The announcement came when a major hunger strike at Guantanamo that began in February escalated in recent weeks. The White House deployed a large medical team to Guantanamo to help administer life-saving nutrients to strikers. At least 100 of the 166 prisoners are now refusing food in hopes of altering the way guards treat inmates. Allegedly, guards mistreated copies of the Qu’ran belonging to some inmates several months ago. A small fraction of the inmates went on strike in February, and guards placed the participants in isolation. When participants resisted or became violent, guards fired rubber bullets. This prompted more of the prison population to refuse food in opposition of maltreatment. The Guardian argues that the strikers also cite the fact that almost half of the prisoners have been cleared for release but the government has not moved them from Guantanamo. The branch of the State Department which deals with resettlement of prisoners was shut down earlier this year, and no governmental organization has taken up the task.
The closure of Guantanamo was a stated goal in Obama’s 2008 platform, but the prison was not mentioned in his second inauguration. Some military officials speculate that his silence on the issue in his second term may have contributed to unrest in the prison.