CLOSE IT: US Navy guards escort a detainee through Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay naval base in this file photo provided by the US defence department. Picture: REUTERS
CLOSE IT: US Navy guards escort a detainee through Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay naval base in this file photo provided by the US defence department. Picture: REUTERS

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday released his long-awaited plan for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying he does not want the next US president — no matter who it is — to have to keep dealing with the albatross of the prisoners held there.

Seven years ago Mr Obama said he wanted to close the facility that holds terrorism-related prisoners, but on Tuesday he still had not offered specifics on possible locations for housing them in the US

Mr Obama called on the Republican-controlled Congress to help enact the plan, but it was met with a volley of rebukes from Republicans, including House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

"It is against the law — and it will stay against the law — to transfer terrorist detainees to American soil," Mr Ryan said. "We will not jeopardise our national security over a campaign promise."

Mr Obama noted earlier Republican support for closing Guantanamo Bay and pointed to convicted terrorists already being held in US maximum security prisons without incident. He proposed transferring as many as 60 of the detainees captured during the war on terrorism, saying it would eliminate a recruiting tool for extremists and save money.

"For many years it’s been clear that our detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our fight against terrorism," Mr Obama said.

The continued existence of the prison "does not advance our national security, it undermines it", he said.

But even some of his potential Republican allies in closing the facility said Mr Obama’s new plan was too vague.

"The president has essentially passed the buck to the Congress," Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war, said.

The proposal, demanded by legislators who have resisted Mr Obama’s attempts to close the facility, calls for spending as much as $475m to transfer 30 to 60 of the detainees to facilities in the US. There are 13 potential sites that could be used for the prisoners, but the plan outlined by the Pentagon does not identify a specific location. The administration says it would work with Congress to identify the most appropriate place to hold the detainees.

Legislators from both parties have balked at Mr Obama’s calls to close the prison since he made a campaign promise to do so in 2008. The president and his aides have argued that the detention centre, opened in 2002 by Republican president George W Bush, has served as a recruiting tool for extremist groups. Mr Obama yesterday called it "a stain" on the reputation of the US for upholding human rights. He said foreign leaders regularly brought up the fact that Guantanamo remained open.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, praised the president’s plan, saying it was disappointing that Republicans had worked to prevent the overdue closure of the Guantanamo facility.

Bloomberg