Obama defends Gitmo closure as detainees return to fight

The Guantanamo Bay closure plan gives few specifics on where a US facility would be, but military officials have previously listed Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or the US Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina among the possible destinations for inmates (AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov)
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Washington (AFP) - US President Barack Obama has vowed to push ahead with plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects, despite evidence that a substantial number of former detainees have returned to the battlefield.

In an interview with Yahoo News that was published Monday, Obama said the strategic benefits of closing the notorious facility outweighed incidents of recidivism among "low-level" former inmates.

The White House itself admits that around 10 percent of those released from Guantanamo have resumed fighting for Islamic extremist organizations, but says it is more important to shutter a facility that has become a recruiting tool for militants.

Obama's comments come as Sudanese militant Ibrahim al-Qosi -- who was released in 2012 -- seemingly appeared in a recent video by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"The judgment that we're continually making is, are there individuals who are significantly more dangerous than the people who are already out there who are fighting?" Obama said.

"What do they add? Do they have special skills? Do they have special knowledge that ends up making a significant threat to the United States?"

"And so the bottom line is that the strategic gains we make by closing Guantanamo will outweigh, you know, those low-level individuals who, you know, have been released so far."

The Republican-controlled Congress has thwarted Obama's repeated efforts to close Guantanamo.

Obama came to office in 2009 vowing to shutter the facility, which opened under his predecessor George W. Bush to hold terror suspects after the September 11, 2001 attacks and became known for harsh interrogation techniques that some have said were tantamount to torture.

Obama is soon expected to put forward a new plan that would speed the release of inmates and transfer the most dangerous ones to US soil.

The plan is likely to accelerate the release of low-level detainees to foreign countries and move the most dangerous prisoners to a specialized facility in the United States.

Because of a congressional ban on funding US transfers, Obama has suggested he may have to resort to an executive order to close the prison. This would ignite a political and legal firestorm.

Obama also told Yahoo News that he "very much" hopes to travel to Cuba before leaving office a little over a year from now.

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic ties this summer, ending a half-century of enmity stemming from the Cold War era.

Obama reiterated previous White House comments that some progress would need to be seen on human rights before any presidential trip.

Obama said he would go when aides could determine "now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that's been made, but also maybe (go) there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction."

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