Some Guantanamo inmates would go to US under new plan: Obama aide

An US soldier walking next to the razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned "Camp X-Ray" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An US soldier walking next to the razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned "Camp X-Ray" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A plan being drafted for closing the Guantanamo military jail will call for the transfer to United States prisons of possibly dozens of inmates deemed too dangerous to release, President Barack Obama's counter terrorism adviser said, setting up a fight with congressional opponents.

Outlining the White House proposal that will soon be sent to Congress, Lisa Monaco, one of Obama's top national security aides, told the Aspen Security Conference on Saturday that the United States would step up the transfers of 52 detainees cleared for resettlement in other countries.

The plan calls for the rest of the inmates at the US naval base in Cuba to be brought to the United States to"Supermax" or military prisons for trials or continued military detention, Monaco said. Some 116 detainees remain at Guantanamo, many held more than a decade without charge or trial.

Obama's new push to meet his longstanding pledge to shut the internationally condemned prison is sure to face strong resistance from Republicans who control Congress. Legislation currently bans the transfer of detainees to the US mainland. "Why hand over this albatross to the president's successor?" Monaco said at the conference in Colorado. Obama has 18 months left in office.

The plan, which the White House says is nearing completion, will include establishing "security protocols" to increase resettlement of prisoners in countries other than their own.

Washington has ruled out repatriating dozens of Yemenis because of the war in their country. US lawmakers are concerned that some of the foreign terrorism suspects who are freed elsewhere will return to militant activities.

Sixty-four prisoners have been deemed "too dangerous to release," including 10 facing military commissions. Monaco said efforts would be made to reduce that number through "periodic review boards" that have been used to clear others for transfer.

"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," she said. "That's the only way we're going to be able to close Guantanamo."

The White House has threatened to veto a defense spending bill if it includes restrictions on transferring inmates.

But Monaco insisted on the need to "work with Congress,"especially Senator John McCain, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has long advocated closing the prison.

Many of McCain's fellow Republicans want to keep it open, and even some of Obama's Democrats have joined in blocking transfers to American jails. The prison was opened by George W Bush, after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks to house suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members rounded up overseas.