- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

President Obama renewed his battle with Congress over closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, saying he won’t be bound by a congressional ban on transferring prisoners to the U.S. if he thinks closing it would serve the nation’s best interests.

The president signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act but attached a statement to the measure declaring that he reserves the right to transfer terrorism suspects “consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy.”

“The continued operation of this facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” Mr. Obama said. “It is imperative that we take responsible steps to reduce the population at this facility to the greatest extent possible and close the facility.”

Mr. Obama vetoed an earlier version of the defense bill because of objections to funding levels and provisions banning the transfer of Gitmo detainees to facilities in the U.S. Lawmakers also have forbidden the administration from spending federal funds to build or modify any facilities in the U.S. to hold the prisoners.

The Republican attorneys general of Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas have urged Mr. Obama to stop any plans to transfer detainees to facilities in their states, saying it would invite terrorist attacks in their communities.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified to Congress last week that the administration is legally prohibited from bringing detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.

“With respect to individuals being transferred to the United States, the law currently does not allow that,” Ms. Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee, but she said closing the facility “is a part of the administration’s policy.”

The president said he was signing the latest version of the bill because it raises defense spending levels beyond the “sequestration” caps imposed in 2011 and includes other changes.

But Mr. Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” that Congress again “failed to take productive action toward closing the detention facility at Guantanamo.”

The detainee population at Guantanamo is 85 percent lower than at its high point, and Mr. Obama said his administration has transferred 57 detainees to other countries in the past two years.

“It is long past time for the Congress to lift the restrictions it has imposed and to work with my administration to responsibly and safely close the facility, bringing this chapter of our history to a close,” he said.

The White House is preparing to submit a plan to Congress to close the Guantanamo prison.

Presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said this month that he wouldn’t rule out closing the detainee prison by executive order if Congress refuses to do what Mr. Obama wants, prompting a storm of protest on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Mr. Obama’s signature on the defense bill “reaffirms long-standing prohibitions on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.”

Mr. Ryan also said the law requires Mr. Obama “to come up with a real, comprehensive plan to defeat” Islamic State fighters.

“That is the ultimate solution to this crisis,” Mr. Ryan said.

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