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News > World

US Attorney General to Block Obama's Plan to Transfer Guantanamo Prisoners

  • The outside of the

    The outside of the "Camp Five" detention facility is seen at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 June 2016

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has twice intervened to block Obama administration proposals.

President Barack Obama is again facing dissent from within his administration — this time from Attorney General Loretta Lynch — over his plans to shutter the Guantanamo Bay military prison, according to senior administration officials.

Obama Never Had a Plan to End What Guantanamo Represents

Lynch is opposing a White House-backed proposal that would allow Guantanamo Bay prisoners to plead guilty to terrorism charges in federal court by video conference, the officials said on Tuesday.

Over the past three months, Lynch has intervened twice to block administration proposals on the issue, objecting that they would violate longstanding rules of criminal justice procedure.

In the first case, her last-minute opposition derailed a White House-initiated legislative proposal to allow video guilty pleas after nearly two months of interagency negotiations and law drafting. In the second case, Lynch blocked the administration from publicly supporting a Senate proposal to legalize video guilty pleas.

“It’s been a fierce interagency tussle,” said a senior Obama administration official, who supports the proposal and asked not to be identified.


White House officials confirmed that President Obama supports the proposal. But the president declined to overrule objections from Lynch, the administration’s top law enforcement official.

If enacted into law, the Obama-backed plan would allow detained terrorism suspects who plead guilty to serve their sentences in a third-country prison, without setting foot on U.S. soil. The plan would thus sidestep a Congressional ban on transferring detainees to the United States, which has left dozens of prisoners in long-term judicial limbo in Guantanamo, the U.S. military enclave in Cuba.

Obama said last week that he won't use his power as commander in chief to unilaterally shutter the detention center.

Why Doesn't Obama Use His Executive Power to Close Guantanamo?

Without an executive order, the only way for Guantanamo to now be closed is for Congress to overturn the ban on bringing the remaining prisoners to maximum security prisons in the United States. With Republicans in control of both chambers, and Democrats unwilling to court controversy ahead of an election, that will not happen.

While he has overseen the release of some 160 men from the prison, the facility still holds 80 detainees.

The video plea plan has broad backing within the administration, including from senior State Department and Pentagon officials. The most enthusiastic backers of the plan have been defense lawyers representing up to a dozen Guantanamo Bay detainees who are eager to extricate their clients from seemingly indefinite detention.

Of the 80 prisoners remaining in Guantanamo, roughly 30 have been approved for transfer to third countries by an interagency review board. Most of those 30 men are expected to be released from Guantanamo in coming weeks, according to administration officials.

The officials said they think that as many as 10 more prisoners could be added to the approved-for-transfer list by the review board. Another 10 detainees are standing trial in military commissions.

That leaves roughly 30 detainees whom the government deems too dangerous to release but unlikely to be successfully prosecuted in court. As a result, those men would likely have to be transferred to detention in the United States if the prison were closed.

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