Obama's attempts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility during his first term were blocked by Congress. Of the hundreds of detainees brought to the remote base on the southeastern end of Cuba, only 166 remain. A handful are awaiting trial. The rest are either deemed too dangerous to release -- but are precluded from trial due to lack of evidence or evidence tainted by enhanced interrogation techniques -- or their home country will no longer accept them.
The U.S. government is prohibited from releasing detainees to a country where they will likely be killed.
"Once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law," he said.
The ongoing hunger strikes among a reported majority of the detainees contributed to Obama's decision to push again for the facility's closure. A woman in the audience at NDU interrupted Obama twice during this portion of his remarks Thursday to protest the treatment of the detainees.
"The president has always been committed to closing Gitmo," a White House senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told reporters. The timing coincides with the agenda Obama set forth in his second term, "but part of the context of that is people taking drastic steps of hunger strikes in Gitmo."
This new push to close the facility, which costs roughly $150 million per year to operate, comes days after the White House requested $200 million on behalf of the Department of Defense for maintenance, upgrades at Guantanamo Bay, and roughly $250 million for operations.
A Pentagon official who spoke on the condition of anonymity says these upgrades would take 2-3 years, not 8-10 as the AP originally reported, and would include amalgamating some of the facility's buildings into a single location. It will address "fair wear and tear" on some of the facilities and to upgrade others that were never designed to permanently house detainees for multiple years.
"A lot of this is about safety and security," for both guards and detainees, the official says. There is no anticipation of growing the facility to house more than 166 detainees.