MIAMI — On the eve of stepping down, President Barack Obama notified Congress Thursday that he had downsized the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the last 41 detainees.
The Department of Defense had no immediate comment on where four captives released overnight Wednesday went, or their identities.
“We have transferred 196 detainees from Guantanamo with arrangements designed to keep them from engaging in acts that pose a threat to the United States and our allies,” Obama said in a two-page letter to Congress released by the White House. “Of the nearly 800 detainees at one time held at the facility, today only 41 remain.”
Obama had argued for years that the prison was a recruiting tool for al-Qaida and its offspring and expensive. Based on a $445 million 2015 budget it now costs $10.85 million to house a captive for a year.
President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to keep it open, “load it up with some bad dudes,” and remarked during the campaign that he would reduce operating costs considerably.
The departing president used the letter to once again urge closure of the detention center that opened on Jan. 11, 2002, with the first 20 detainees.
“For 15 years, the United States has detained hundreds of people at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a facility that never should have been opened in the first place,” he wrote. “Terrorists use it for propaganda, its operations drain our military resources during a time of budget cuts, and it harms our partnerships with allies and countries whose cooperation we need against today’s evolving terrorist threat.
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“By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it,” he added. “There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open. Members of Congress who obstruct efforts to close the facility, given the stakes involved for our security, have abdicated their responsibility to the American people.”