WASHINGTON – The White House is making plans to transfer more detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay despite the mounting political furor over the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, officials said Tuesday.
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the White House was “making progress on a number of additional promising opportunities” to transfer more prisoners and that officials were reviewing Yemeni detainees “on a case-by-case basis.”
“While we do not generally discuss transfers before they take place, we are fully committed to implementing the president’s direction that we transfer detainees to the greatest extent possible, consistent with national security and our humane-treatment policy, as we work toward closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay,” she said.
Hayden said 17 inmates had been moved out of Guantanamo in the last 13 months, including the five former Taliban officials transferred to Qatar in the swap for Bergdahl.
The future of America’s most notorious prison camp, and its 149 remaining inmates, has been in doubt since the White House announced the exchange May 31.
But President Barack Obama, who has sought unsuccessfully to close the U.S. military prison in Cuba since he took office, hinted strongly last week that he still intended to move more detainees out as the Pentagon winds down its war in Afghanistan.
“By definition, if we in fact are ending a war, then there’s going to be a process in which some of those individuals are going to be released,” he said on NBC News.
Exactly how remains unclear. Although Congress has allowed the transfer or repatriation of hundreds of detainees in recent years, angry lawmakers now are threatening to put up new roadblocks, even for the several dozen inmates approved by military courts for release back to their home countries.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is to testify today before the House Armed Services Committee, the first public hearing to focus on the transfer of the so-called Taliban Five to the government of Qatar, which helped negotiate the deal. Hagel is expected to face harsh questions on the administration’s plans for future transfers or releases.