White House: no bypass of Congress for Guantanamo closure11 october 2014, 14:07
The White House said Friday it aimed to work with US lawmakers towards closing Guantanamo and was not "drafting options" for circumventing a congressional ban on transferring detainees to US soil, AFP reports.
"Our position right now, our policy right now, is seeking support from Congress to lift the restrictions which we feel are misguided," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters.
His comments came after a Wall Street Journal article cited administration officials saying President Barack Obama was considering unilateral action that would pave the way for shuttering the war-on-terror prison.
That report angered Republican lawmakers, who warned against any executive action that would transfer the detainees to US prisons without congressional consent.
"Any action by the president to close Guantanamo Bay by overriding Congress is blatantly illegal," House Republican Mark Meadows posted on Twitter.
The White House sought to downplay the provocative Journal report.
"We do not know what new press reports are referring to when they say the administration is 'drafting options' intended to 'override a congressional ban,'" National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Detainees cleared of national security threats will be repatriated whenever possible, and the administration will "continue to call on members of both parties to work together to ensure that Congress lifts the remaining restrictions and enables the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," she added.
After the Journal story was published, House Speaker John Boehner warned that "an overwhelming majority of the American people, and bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, oppose importing the terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay into the United States, yet the White House continues to move forward with its plan."
Republican Senator Pat Roberts threatened to bring legislative action to a standstill should Obama seek to shift "a Gitmo terrorist" into the United States.
"If he tries it, I will shut down the Senate," Roberts told supporters in Kansas, according to Roll Call.
The US Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba currently holds 149 detainees linked to the post-9/11 war on terrorism, including 79 who have been cleared for transfer by US authorities but languish there amid repatriation concerns.
Estonia said Thursday it agreed to take in one of the detainees who has not been convicted of a crime.
Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo, set up 13 years ago under president George W. Bush, but he has been thwarted by domestic and international obstacles.
Congress in 2010 banned the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to US soil after the administration proposed relocating them to a maximum-security prison in Illinois.
Friday's expressions of outrage by Republicans come on the heels of moves to sue the president over what they consider abuses of executive power, including delays to key provisions of Obama's health care law.
Republicans also have voiced exasperation at Obama's threats to take executive action on other issues like minimum wage and immigration.
Complaints grew louder in June when the administration revealed it bypassed Congress and released five Taliban Guantanamo detainees for the return of a US Army sergeant held for five years in Afghanistan.