Washington, 22 Jumadil Akhir/1 May 2013 (MINA) – US President Barack Obama has said he will renew efforts to close down the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, after extra medical staff were sent to the facility to help address a hunger strike that spread to nearly two-thirds of the detainees.
He told a news conference on Tuesday that he has asked a team of officials to review the issue and will make another appeal to Congress to shut down the prison holding “terror” suspects in Cuba.
Obama ordered the detention centre closed upon taking office but was thwarted repeatedly by Congress, which made it harder to move prisoners elsewhere, also said that he was not surprised that there are problems at the facility, where 100 of 166 inmates are on hunger strike.
“I continue to believe we have to close Guantanamo. I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” he said.
“It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruiting tool for extremists,” according to Aljazeera reports monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).
About 40 US Navy medical personnel, including nurses and specialists, arrived over the weekend, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House, a military spokesman at Guantanamo, said on Monday.
“The influx of personnel was planned several weeks ago as increasing numbers of detainees chose to protest their detention,” he said.
With the strike now entering its 12th week, Obama has faced fresh calls to honour his promise to close the prison at the US base in Cuba, which holds 166 individuals captured as part of the “War on Terror.”
House said 21 of the inmates on strike are receiving feeding through nasal tubes.
Five are hospitalised, he added in the statement, without specifying whether any were in life-threatening condition.
Lawyers for the detainees have said around 130 inmates are observing the hunger strike, more than officially acknowledged.
The rapidly growing protest movement began on February 6, when inmates claimed prison officials searched Qurans in a way they considered blasphemous, according to their lawyers.
Officials have denied any mishandling of Islam’s holy book. But the strike has now turned into a larger protest by prisoners against their indefinite incarceration without charge or trial over the past 11 years.
Calls for closure
More and more critics have called for the immediate closure of the facility.
Among them is former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Air Force colonel Morris Davis, who warned that “unless President Obama acts soon, I believe it is likely one or more of the detainees will die.”
Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch, said “there has never been such a critical moment in the history of Guantanamo.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, wrote a letter to Obama asking the administration to “renew its efforts” to transfer out the 86 detainees who were cleared for such a move by US military authorities.
She also called for the reassessment of the “security situation on the ground in Yemen, because is my understanding that 56 of the 86 detainees cleared for transfer are Yemeni.”
Obama imposed a moratorium on repatriating Yemenis held at Guantanamo in 2009 after a plot to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day was traced back to al-Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise.(T/P05/E1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)