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President signs bill that “takes positive step forward” in possible closing of Guantanamo Bay detention facility

Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Base in Cuba
Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Base in Cuba

“WASHINGTON – On Thursday, the President signed the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014,” which authorizes fiscal year 2014 appropriations for Department of Defense programs and military construction, Department of Energy national security programs, and Department of Transportation maritime security programs; authorizes recruitment and retention bonuses, special payments, and other authorities relating to the U.S. Armed Forces; and makes other modifications to national security, foreign affairs, and other related programs.

President Obama said he signed the bill because it will “provide pay and bonuses for our service members, enhance counterterrorism initiatives abroad, build the security capacity of key partners, and expand efforts to prevent sexual assault and strengthen protections for victims.”

The President said he has called on Congress since taking office to work with him to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the bill is a step in the direction of accomplishing that.

“The continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” Mr. Obama said Thursday.

According to the President, for the past several years, the Congress has enacted unwarranted and burdensome restrictions “that have impeded my ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo. Earlier this year I again called upon the Congress to lift these restrictions and, in this bill, the Congress has taken a positive step in that direction.  The executive branch must have the flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers. Of course, even in the absence of any statutory restrictions, my Administration would transfer a detainee only if the threat the detainee may pose can be sufficiently mitigated and only when consistent with our humane treatment policy. Section 1035 nevertheless represents an improvement over current law and is a welcome step toward closing the facility.

“The detention facility at Guantanamo continues to impose significant costs on the American people. I am encouraged that this Act provides the Executive greater flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees abroad, and look forward to working with the Congress to take the additional steps needed to close the facility. In the event that the restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees in sections 1034 and 1035 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.”

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