Obama To Lay Out Plan For Closing Guantanamo

President Obama delivers a major speech on national security issues Thursday. Many will be listening for what he says about closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Senate complicated the president's options by blocking the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees to the United States. Congressional Republicans are now demanding that Guantanamo be kept open.

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Let's hear more now on the backdrop to President Obama's speech today. He will be speaking about national security at the National Archives, home of the Constitution, among other documents. Many people will be listening for what the president has to say about how to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

One big question is where the detainees should go instead. The Senate complicated the president's options yesterday by voting to block the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees to the United States. And Congressional Republicans are demanding that Guantanamo be kept open. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Before the Senate voted 90-6 to bar any funds for transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye said the measure he was co-sponsoring was not about keeping Guantanamo open.

Senator DANIEL INOUYE (Democrat, Hawaii): Instead, it should serve as a reality check since at this time the administration has not yet forwarded a coherent plan for closing this prison.

WELNA: But Republicans seemed to smell blood in the Democrats' hasty move to scuttle the Guantanamo funding. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who co-sponsored the fund-stripping amendment, argued that the prison on leased Cuban land should be kept open indefinitely.

Senator JAMES INHOFE (Republican, Oklahoma): It's $4,000 a year. That's all it costs us. So this is a resource that we need to keep, we have to keep. The only argument that I hear against it is, Oh, the Europeans don't want it. Well, where are the Europeans? You know, I'm getting a little bit tired of having them dictate what we do in the United States.

WELNA: So too was GOP leader Mitch McConnell. He pointed out that President Obama has said his top priority is the safety of the American people.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): That's precisely why the administration should rethink, should rethink his plan to close Guantanamo by a date certain.

WELNA: President Obama has not ruled out the transfer of some of Guantanamo's 240 detainees to U.S. facilities. But FBI director Robert Mueller made clear yesterday to the House Judiciary Committee that he for one has real concerns about the prospect of what those detainees might do in the U.S.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (FBI Director): Concerns about providing financing to terrorists, radicalizing others with regard to extreme - violent extremism, the potential for individuals undertaking attacks on the United States. All of those are concerns relevant to an individual comes into the United States from whatever source who may present a challenge.

WELNA: But a maverick Republican senator, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, scoffed at such concerns.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational. We have done this before. They're not 10 feet tall.

WELNA: At the White House yesterday, spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president is sticking with his timeline to close down Guantanamo. But Gibbs also made clear that other key decisions have yet to be made.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The president hasn't decided where some of the detainees will be transferred. Again, those are decisions that the task forces are working on and that the president will begin to lay out and discuss tomorrow.

WELNA: The president's task force on closing Guantanamo is not expected to report back to him until July. In the meantime, Mr. Obama has begun calling both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to garner support. Lindsey Graham, the maverick Republican, says he warned the president this week that support for closing Guantanamo was quickly collapsing.

Senator GRAHAM: There's been a massive retreat by Democrats and Republicans. And I - we've got to restart it. We need to do this sooner rather than later. And what I told the president, time is not on our side. We need to get this going.

WELNA: The deadline President Obama's set for closing Guantanamo is eight months from tomorrow.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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