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Burr opposes Obama's plan to close Guantanamo prison

By Bertrand M. Gutiérrez, Winston-Salem Journal

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and other Republican members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation said Tuesday that they would try to stop President Barack Obama’s effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Advocates of closing Guantanamo say that the prison has long served as a recruiting tool for militant groups and that holding extremists suspected of violent acts indefinitely without charges or trials sparks anger and dismay among U.S. allies.

Opponents, however, say changing the detention center’s location won’t eliminate that problem.

“President Obama’s aggressive push to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is dangerous,” said Burr, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Recently, we learned that one of the former prisoners at Gitmo is back fighting for Al-Qaeda’s terrorist agenda,” he said.

“It’s clear that the threats to the United States are increasing, not decreasing, and we need every available military asset. As President Obama continues to court the Castro regime, I believe it is important that Congress makes clear that he cannot give up our base in such a strategic location,” Burr said.

The prison at Guantanamo houses 91 detainees, down from a high of nearly 800 under former President George. W. Bush.

Under Obama’s plan, roughly 35 detainees would be transferred to other countries within months.

Some of the remaining detainees face trial by U.S. military commission. Others have been determined to be too dangerous to release but are not facing charges.

All of them would be moved to a site in the United States that could cost up to $475 million to build, but that cost ultimately would be offset by saving as much as $180 million per year in operating cost savings. The annual operating cost for Guantanamo detention center is $445 million. The U.S. sites would cost between $265 million and $305 million to operate each year, according to the proposal.

The plan considers, but does not name, 13 different locations in the U.S., including seven existing prison facilities in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas, as well as six other locations at current correctional facilities on state, federal or military sites in several states. It also notes that there could be all-new construction on existing military bases. The plan doesn’t recommend a preferred site.

The proposal, which was requested by Congress, is Obama’s last attempt to make good on an unfulfilled campaign promise by persuading Congress to change the law that prohibits moving detainees accused of violent extremist acts to U.S. soil.

Fourteen years after the prison opened and seven years after Obama took office, the president argued that it was “finally” time to close a facility that has sparked persistent legal battles, become a recruitment tool for Islamic militants and garnered strong opposition from some allies abroad.

“This is about closing a chapter in our history,” said Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in remarks at the White House. “It reflects the lessons that we’ve learned since 9/11, lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.”

Among other GOP members of Congress from North Carolina who said they oppose the plan to close the prison were U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of the 5th Congressional District.

Foxx said that bipartisan majorities in Congress have rejected the idea of bringing dangerous terrorists to the homeland.

“President Obama’s stubborn insistence on fulfilling an ill-advised campaign promise to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay distracts from ongoing threats to American national security and highlights the failures of his foreign policy agenda,” she said.

Tillis said that the “Islamic terrorists” detained at Guantanamo no longer pose a threat to the world.

“It’s unbelievable that President Obama is now calling for transferring these dangerous terrorists to American soil,” he said.

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