United States President Barack Obama has announced he will attempt to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
Mr Obama said on Wednesday morning (AEDT) the US should continue transferring low-risk Guantanamo inmates to other countries and the US, flagging 13 other replacement facilities that could be used at less cost to the taxpayer.
“When it does not advance our security, we have to change course,” he said.
“For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it.”
The US government spent almost US$450 million on imprisoning 100 inmates at the facility in 2015, according to the President. Its continued existence harms diplomacy with other nations, is contrary to the country’s values and is a “stain” on the US, he said.
“This is about closing a chapter in our history.
“It reflects the lessons that we’ve learned since 9/11 — lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.”
The prison was opened in January 2002 by then-President George W Bush following the 9/11 attacks.
It was situated on a US naval base on a coastal piece of land in south-eastern Cuba, leased from Havana under a treaty dating back to 1903.
There are currently 91 suspected jihadists at Guantanamo, which at its peak housed around 700 inmates.
World leaders and US military officials frequently ask the President if and when Guantanamo Bay will be closed, Mr Obama said.
The facility has become synonymous with torture, indefinite detention and its inmates’ orange jumpsuits.
An International Committee of the Red Cross inspected Guantanamo Bay in 2004 and alleged it witnessed “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes and use of forced positions” on prisoners.
The BBC and New York Times reported many allegations of torture and unethical treatment of prisoners.
Mr Obama has advocated Guantanamo’s closure since taking office in 2009, but has been thwarted by Republican politicians, who see it as a vital way to fight terrorism.
The President contended the opposite was true. The facility violates the US’ values, feeds into anti-US propaganda and hands militants a powerful recruiting tool, he said.
The US president has reportedly faced opposition to the closure from within his own administration, with the Pentagon accused of slow-pedalling transfers and overstating closure costs.
“This plan deserves a fair hearing, even in an election year.
“Let us go ahead and close this chapter. I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is.”
The most dangerous prisoners would be tried in US courts or transferred directly to US prisons, according to Mr Obama, while others would be moved overseas and tried in military courts.
Human rights groups worry this would only extend detentions without trial and create a “Guantanamo North”.
“The possibility of a new, parallel system of lifelong incarceration inside the United States without charge would set a dangerous precedent,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
Congress banned transfers into the USA, creating a mire of legal complications. Obama’s plan relies on Congress agreeing to allow the prisoners to be held and tried on home soil.
Of the current 91 inmates, 35 have been approved for release, with the rest facing indefinite detention.
One of the most notorious prisoner is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is charged, along with four others, of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Watch Mr Obama’s announcement below:
President Obama on his plan to close the prison at Guantanamo BayBREAKING: Watch President Obama announce his plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay → go.wh.gov/8sxXiM
Posted by The White House on Tuesday, 23 February 2016
– with ABC