The Obama administration is considering ways to finally close down Guantanamo Bay, an action that would override a congressional ban on the transfer of prisoners to the U.S., executive officials told The Wall Street Journal.
Congress passed the ban in 2010 after the administration proposed transferring some of the military prison's 149 detainees to a facility in Illinois. While President Barack Obama would rather seek a legislative alternative, he remains "unwavering in his commitment" to closing Guantanamo, which he vowed to do before his time as president is up.
One alternative would be for Obama to veto a bill titled the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passes yearly to maintain the ban on bringing detainees to the U.S., the WSJ reported.
Or, Obama could sign the bill but at the same time declare that such a ban on transferring prisoners violates his authority as commander in chief. Previous presidents, both Democrat and Republican, have made similar declarations when signing legislation.
Guantanamo Bay, based in Cuba, opened in 2002 as part of the government's war on terror after the Sept. 11 attacks. Though most of the nearly 800 prisoners have since been released, many of the ones that remain have been held for years without a trial.
The government spends $2.7 million a year to maintain each detainee. If the administration is able to secure the transfer of enough prisoners to other countries- such as Estonia, Yemen and France- then maintaining the prison may become impractical and congressional resistance would lessen.
"As the number becomes smaller at Guantanamo, the case for domestic transfers becomes that much stronger," a senior administration official told the WSJ.
The transfer process, however, has been stalled by political barriers. National security officials have approved 79 prisoners for transfer but they remain in Guantanamo.
If these options don't work and Obama closes the prison anyway, the executive action could anger Republicans who are already seething with rage at Obama for overstepping his executive powers in the past, namely the exchange of five Guantanamo detainees for the Taliban's release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl without notifying Congress.
The decision "would ignite a political firestorm, even if it's the best resolution for the Guantanamo problem," Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University, told the WSJ.