President Obama declared in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News that he will keep pushing to close the detention center for suspected extremists at Guantanamo Bay despite news reports that some freed prisoners had enlisted with terrorist groups.
“I am absolutely persuaded, as are my top intelligence and military advisers, that Guantanamo is used as a recruitment tool for organizations like ISIS,” he said. “And if we want to fight ’em, then we can’t give ’em these kinds of excuses.”
Obama also said that it was to be expected that “a handful” of the hundreds of Guantanamo Bay prisoners released over the past 14 years would join, or rejoin, terrorist groups.
“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? What do they add? Do they have special skills? Do they have special knowledge that ends up making significant threat to the United States?” he said. “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.”
But Obama demurred when asked whether, if he achieves the long-shot goal of closing the detention center, he will take steps to turn the base back over to Cuba.
“We’re far from having a conversation about that with the Cuban government,” he said. “There’s no doubt they’d love to have Guantanamo back. And I suspect that will be a long, diplomatic discussion that will outlast my administration.”
Obama promised on his first full day in office to close the notorious detention facility within one year. But the progress on that front has been slow and plodding by comparison with the lightning diplomacy that led to normalization of relations with Cuba.
On Dec. 17, 2014, Obama and Raul Castro stunned the world by disclosing that they had held secret negotiations and were prepared to usher in a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, starting with the resumption of full diplomatic ties. Embassies reopened in Havana and Washington, the United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the two sides took steps to increase travel and business opportunities.
Obama has undertaken many changes using his executive powers, and indicated in the interview that he would continue looking at ways to do so in 2016. But Obama needs Congress to roll back the centerpiece of America’s Cold War-era pressure on Cuba and lift the U.S. trade embargo.
Watch the full interview: