Secretary of Defense Ash Carter again fought off allegations Sunday that the Pentagon has repeatedly blocked White House attempts to shutter Guantanamo Bay.
In an interview on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Carter responded to an editorial that appeared in The New York Times earlier in January, which blamed Pentagon officials for throwing up road blocks every step of the way to the facility’s closure and essentially called their actions insubordination, The Hill reports.
“I’ve said from the day I was nominated to be secretary of Defense, I think on balance it would be a good thing to close Gitmo. I completely agree with President Obama about that,” Carter told Zakaria, reaffirming his commitment to White House priorities and denying the charge of insubordination.
Yet, Carter took the time to add a caveat.
“But here’s the issue, there are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government no matter how much we trust that government. I can’t assure the president that it would be safe to do that,” he added.
Carter has apparently already submitted a closure plan to President Barack Obama, who is now supposed to forward that plan to Congress. Republicans in Congress, with the exception of administration allies like GOP Sen. John McCain, are widely opposed to shuttering the facility. It is unclear what the administration plans to do if Congress rejects the proposal, but it could involve an attempt at unilateral executive action.
Congress has opposed closing the facility, and despite insistence from the Defense Secretary that this is not the case, the Pentagon has also gummed up the works. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned last year for exactly this reason, saying that the administration tried to assassinate his reputation even after he handed in his resignation due to White House pressure.
Detainees themselves also haven’t made the job any easier. One detainee refused to accept a transfer to the Balkans last week, since none of his family members were located in that area. That detainee went straight back into his cell, leaving the total number of detainees still locked up at 91. The administration has transferred 16 detainees in January in an attempt to fulfill Obama’s campaign promise in just 11 months.
Carter has previously taken fire for slowing down transfers out of Gitmo. Back in August 2015, The Daily Beast reported that Carter was allegedly holding up releases because he doesn’t want to be held responsible for detainees returning to terrorist activity when finally let out of the facility.
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