WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is considering naming a senior diplomat to work on sending prisoners at Guantanamo Bay home or to third countries as part of a renewed effort to close the detention camp at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba, the White House said on Wednesday.
If he does so, it would be the first action by the U.S. government since Obama vowed on Tuesday to make a renewed effort to close the camp, where about 100 inmates are on hunger strike to protest against their years in detention without trial.
“One of the options available to us that we’re examining is reappointing a senior official at the State Department to renew our focus again on repatriating or transferring detainees that we determine can be returned to their home countries or third countries,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
The post at the State Department has been vacant since January.
Most of the prisoners have been kept in detention without trial or charge since the prison was set up in 2002 to hold foreign terrorism suspects.
Obama’s administration also wants to speed up a process for reviewing the cases of the detainees, Carney told reporters during a briefing. The administration has been criticized for allowing these reviews to lag behind schedule.
Carney blamed Congress for making it difficult to close the camp. For example, lawmakers have held back funding that would allow the government to transfer detainees to prisons in the United States, he said.
“We have to work with Congress and try to convince members of Congress that the overriding interest here, in terms of our national security, as well as our budget, is to close Guantanamo Bay,” he said.
Human rights groups have welcomed Obama’s renewed pledge to close the prison camp, but said that he could not blame Congress entirely for the failure to shut it down and should take action on his own.
Members of Congress of both political parties have resisted transferring the inmates to the United States, where some lawmakers are concerned they might pose a security risk.
“There are things that the president can do administratively, but this will also require congressional agreement,” Carney said.
Obama has said he would examine every option available to close the camp, including actions he can take independently of Congress. He has not said whether he would use executive powers that some legal experts say he has to transfer the detainees.
The Guantanamo camp was opened by President George W. Bush, to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured overseas after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Obama failed to meet his promise to close the prison within a year of taking office in early 2009 and it has become an enduring symbol of widely condemned U.S. interrogation and detention practices during the Bush era.
Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and David Ingram. Editing by Christopher Wilson