President Barack Obama promised to renew his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison amid a renewed public relations campaign by the jailed jihadis and their supporters, including a hunger strike.
“I’m going to ask some folks over there [on Capitol Hill] who care about fighting terrorism but also care about who we are as a people to step up and help me on it,” he said during an April 30 press conference that was announced just hours before it was held.
“This is a lingering problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester … so I’m going to, as I said before, examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue,” Obama continued.
“I don’t want these individuals to die” in a hunger strike,” he said. “Why are we doing this? We’ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country … It’s been done in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution, consistent with due process, consistent with rule of law, consistent with our traditions.
The jihadis should be transferred from the military’s tropical prison in Cuba into conventional civilian-run prisons in the United States, he added.
The prisoners include some of the jihadis who organized the Sept. 11, 2001 attack that murdered roughly 3,000 Americans.
Advocates for the military-run legal system for enemy combatants, which includes Guantanamo Bay, argue that the jihadis can’t be tried in civilian courts without damaging long-standing rules that shield traditional, criminal defendants from the police. The military can’t act like police on the battlefield, they argue, and police can’t collect courtroom-ready evidence and testimony while being shot at.
Roughly 100 of the prisoners have begun a hunger strike to pressure administration officials to liberalize the prisoners’ detention, and even to force the release of some back to their home countries. Last month, the prisoners used crude weapons to try to keep guards from a prison yard, prompting a crackdown by administrators.
“We should be wiser, we should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists, and this is a lingering problem that is not going to get better.”
“We can handle this” in conventional civilian prisons, he said, as he repeated his 2008 intention to close the military-run prison.