- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter assured lawmakers on Wednesday that he would not allow the White House to bully him into rapidly closing the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Carter made that promise to senators during his confirmation hearing after they expressed concern over public gripes by former Pentagon officials and outgoing Defense chief Chuck Hagel about White House efforts to micromanage military affairs, including the pace at which prisoners are released from Guantanamo Bay.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, urged Mr. Carter to keep a wary eye out for overreach, noting how former defense chiefs Robert Gates and Leon Panetta made public their personal struggles with the White House late last year.

Mr. Hagel appeared to share their frustrations when he described during a CNN interview last week how White House staff have tried to push him into expediting the release of detainees from the naval facility. That pressure stems from President Obama’s desire to close the facility before he leaves office in 2017.

“Two of your predecessors, Secretary Gates and Secretary Panetta, have severely criticized White House micromanagement of the Defense Department and over-centralization of foreign and defense policy,” said Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican. “According to numerous news reports, Secretary Hagel experienced similar frustrations with the insular and indecisive White House national security team over issues ranging from [Islamic State] to Ukraine, detention policy to sequestration.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte echoed Mr. McCain’s concerns and took them a step further.

“Make a commitment to this committee that you will not succumb to any pressure by this administration to increase the transfers of Guantanamo,” the New Hampshire Republican said.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Carter said.

President Obama vowed in 2009 to review the detainees being kept at the facility and determine whether they should be transferred, released or prosecuted. In January, the military released five Yemeni detainees and sent them to Oman and Estonia. The release of those detainees decreased the population at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility from a one-time high of 779 to 122 detainees.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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