Pentagon officials have been placing bureaucratic obstacles in the way of President Barack Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo prison since he took office in 2009, according to multiple current and former administration officials.
The officials, who have been interviewed by Reuters, described the Pentagon’s obstructive efforts as a pattern which has repeatedly occurred every time a Guantanamo prisoner’s release was discussed with the Defense Department.
James Dobbins, the State Department special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2014, said that negotiating inmate releases with the Pentagon was like “punching a pillow.”
Defense Department officials “would come to a meeting, they would not make a counter-argument,” he said. “And then nothing would happen.”
In September, for example, State Department officials sought to meet with a foreign delegation at the prison to convince the group to take detainee Tariq Ba Odah to their country.
The foreign officials first demanded that they review Ba Odah’s medical records, but the Pentagon declined to release those records over privacy concerns.
The delegation then cancelled the visit, but the Obama administration again invited them to the prison, promising to deliver the records. The Pentagon officials again withheld the inmate’s medical file.
Ba Odah has been in the facility for 14 years and was cleared for release by US military, intelligence and diplomatic officials five years ago. He has been on a hunger strike for seven years and lost half of his weight.
In other instances, the Pentagon has prognosticated the transfers of six inmates to Uruguay, five to Kazakhstan, one to Mauritania and one to Britain for months or years, according to the officials familiar with the cases.
The Pentagon officials have repeatedly refused to provide photographs and complete medical records as well as other basic documentation to other countries willing to take the Guantanamo detainees.
The US currently holds 107 prisoners at Guantanamo– down from 775 detainees arrested in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Some 48 inmates have been cleared for release but are languishing in the prison which has become synonymous with prisoner abuse and torture.