Vice President Joe Biden stated at a press conference in Sweden on Thursday that he hopes and expects [Reuters report] that the Guantanamo Bay prison will be closed before President Barack Obama leaves office. The Vice President’s remarks come a day after White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated the president’s intentions [press briefing] to shut down the Guantanamo facility. According to Earnest, there are currently 61 detainees confined at the facility, and
“[t]here is a rigorous process of evaluating the individual cases, and this process is conducted by a review board where there are representatives of a variety of national intelligence and national security agencies who consider these individual cases … At this point, only 20 of the 61 who are currently there have been approved for transfer.”
Earnest clarified that only those who have been cleared for transfer will be moved to another facility. The Obama administration has been attempting to shut Guantanamo down since coming to power in 2009, but has thus far faced severe opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress.
Last week, the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] announced the transfer [JURIST report] of 15 Guantanamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Twelve of the detainees were from Yemen, and the other three were from Afghanistan. Six of the detainees had been approved for release since 2009 while the others were cleared for release more recently. The question of shutting Guantanamo down has been one of great controversy. Also last week, a US Senator released a Pentagon Report [JURIST report] detailing the profiles of those currently detained in and recently released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) concluded that closing the facility would not be in the US’ best interests and would pose a safety risk. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told Fox News in January that US President Barack Obama intends to fulfill [JURIST report] his promise to close the Guantanamo detention facility before leaving office—a promise renewed by the Obama administration on Monday. Last November the US Senate passed [JURIST report] the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (NDAA), which prohibits Guantanamo detainees from being transferred into the US. Obama signed the bill into law, despite the fact that it could delay his plan to close the prison. The NDAA comes after the DOD said [JURIST report] they were sending teams to review three Colorado prisons as part of Obama’s efforts to close the facility in October. The Guantanamo Review Task Force was created in response to a 2009 presidential executive order [text, PDF] to review the status of all detainees. In September White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest said Obama was considering a “wide array” of options [JURIST report] for closing the prison.