- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2014

President Obama’s failure to make good on his promise to close the detention center for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay has forced the FBI counterterrorism division to approve a new, no-bid contract for air charter services to and from the military base on Cuba.

The agency thought the facility would be closed by now, according to contract records, but as one official pointed out in a sole source justification document signed this month, “the intent did not happen,” and the old contract expired.

The new contract pays Florida-based Air Partners Inc. to provide air service to and from Guantanamo in a deal worth up to an estimated $1.05 million over six months.

“The decision to only award this solicitation as a not to exceed three year time period was that under the current administration, it was the U.S. government’s intent to vacate the GITMO location by 2012,” an FBI contract official wrote in the hiring document, which was dated Sept. 24.

Federal officials generally are told to shy away from sole source contracts, which mean less competition and usually a worse deal for taxpayers. But the FBI said in documents that it needed this deal in place now to give the agency more time to complete a contract early in fiscal year 2015, which began Wednesday.

The FBI also said there wasn’t enough time to open up the contract for competitive bidding that would allow a new vendor to negotiate landing rights, ramp fees, gate rental and other deals.

Neither the FBI nor the White House returned messages seeking comment.

Human rights organizations say Mr. Obama should have found a way to keep his self-imposed deadline.

“It should’ve been closed a long time ago,” said Laura Pitter, senior national security research at the Human Rights Watch, who said she was not familiar with the contract. “It’s a clear violation of international law.”

But Congress remains generally opposed to closing the prison, and has placed numerous restrictions on Mr. Obama’s ability to transfer prisoners.

When Mr. Obama released five Taliban warriors from the prison in exchange for the return of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the president faced harsh criticism from lawmakers who said he broke those restrictions. The Government Accountability Office issued a legal memo concluding that Mr. Obama had in fact broken the law by going ahead with the transfer without first notifying Congress.

Earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, chided Mr. Obama’s lack of planning on Guantanamo.

“The defining bookends to the president’s approach were the executive orders signed his first week in office, which included the declaration that Guantanamo would be closed within a year, without any plan for what to do with its detainees, and the executive orders that ended the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Obama promised to close the detention center in 2009, signing an executive order that followed up on his campaign promise.

In one of his first official acts, he cited “national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice” in pushing for closure. He gave himself a one-year deadline to shut it down.

But he’s been stymied by Congress, which has banned building a replacement prison in the U.S.

The Associated Press reported this week that the Pentagon approval process has also slowed the president’s plans.

“The president would absolutely like to see more progress in our efforts to close Guantanamo,” Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco told The Associated Press.

“He wants it closed. He’s pushing his own team very hard, raising it weekly with me, with [Defense] Secretary Hagel, with Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry. He also wants Congress to act to remove the restrictions in place that are making it even harder to move forward.”

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