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“The executive branch must have the flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,” Mr. Obama said.

He assured Congress that even without any limits he himself would have made sure not to send detainees home if he wasn’t reasonably sure they would no longer pose a threat or wouldn’t be subjected to torture.

Mr. Obama took office vowing to close the prison at Guantanamo, but has been thwarted at every step by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who have said they don’t want detainees brought to the U.S. where they could enjoy more rights, and who say that transferring them to other countries could help some of them return quickly to the battlefield.