WASHINGTON — Despite fierce opposition in Congress, the White House insisted Friday that it has not ruled out releasing Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States. But with narrowing options, the administration has begun shipping newly cleared inmates abroad to regain momentum in its effort to close the Cuba-based prison camp.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration has not abandoned the possibility of releasing detainees in the U.S., but he added that national security considerations would govern any moves.
"We're not going to make any decisions about transfer or release that threatens the security of the country," Gibbs said, capping a week in which 10 detainees were transferred under high security to foreign nations.
Gibbs said that the release of those detainees showed "marked progress," and that other decisions were being made on a case-by-case basis. President Barack Obama said last month that the cases of 50 detainees had been reviewed, and the administration said 48 of them were waiting for release to foreign nations.
But the prospects for any transfers of Guantanamo inmates to the mainland U.S. have dimmed in recent weeks as Congress acted to block funding to pay for the moves. And foreign countries have been hesitant to take even cleared detainees who were deemed not to pose security threats.
Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo by early next year, and U.S. officials have been searching for places to resettle detainees, lobbying hard with foreign governments.
This week alone, the administration transferred 10 detainees out of Guantanamo. Three were sent home to Saudi Arabia, one was sent to each Chad and Iraq, one was brought to New York to stand trial in civilian court and four were sent to Bermuda. And a deal in principle has been reached with the Pacific island nation of Palau to accept some others.
Numerous countries have balked at accepting detainees unless some are also resettled in the United States.
Despite Gibbs' comments, a key House panel approved legislation Friday that would deny immigration benefits to any Guantanamo detainees who might be released in the U.S. after being brought here for trial.