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Pentagon: No deadline, progress on site surveys for Guantanamo closure plan

The original courtroom at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, seen in November 2014.

WALTER MICHOT/MIAMI HERALD/TNS

By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 25, 2015

MIAMI — The Pentagon’s new press secretary said Tuesday that the Obama administration has not settled on a date to deliver its Guantanamo closure plan to Congress and has not identified future survey sites beyond U.S. military lockups at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Charleston, S.C.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter “wants to move expeditiously,” press secretary Peter Cook told reporters in response to a series of questions about developing a plan to be presented to Congress on transferring some of Guantanamo’s last 116 detainees to the United States. “We’d like to do it soon,” he said.

Congress returns from vacation after Labor Day. It would have to bless the plan by lifting an embargo on the use of taxpayer money to move detainees stateside. Meantime, the governors of South Carolina and Kansas on Tuesday threatened to block any eventual plan to move the captives to their states.

Cook also said the teams have no working estimate on the cost of keeping a Guantanamo detainee in a stateside military lockup versus the U.S. Navy detention center in southeast Cuba. The site is currently staffed by at least 2,000 troops and civilians. The Obama administration currently crunches the annual cost at $3.4 million per prisoner by dividing the detainee census by the Department of Defense’s 2015 detention center budget of $399 million.

Cook said the team designing a proposal to transfer detainees to the U.S. had already visited the Army Disciplinary Barracks in Kansas and the U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina but a Pentagon spokesman later corrected him to say the team had not yet visited Charleston.

Of the 116 captives currently at the prison, 52 are cleared for repatriation or resettlement abroad, provided the State Department can secure diplomatic security assurances. The rest would theoretically be transferred to the United States if they are not approved for release through regular parole-board reviews.

“This secretary, acting on behalf of this president, is moving forward as expeditiously as he can to not only deal with the transfer issue but to also find a suitable facility here in the United States to house these detainees,” Cook said of the two ingredients required for closure — relocation of some to the United States, release of others abroad.

“If this was easy,” he said, “it would’ve been done, handled perhaps previously. This is difficult. This is hard.”

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