The Pentagon is rushing efforts to move detainees from Guantanamo Bay before lawmakers derail President Barack Obama's plan to close the military prison, The Washington Post reports
Officials are planning to send up to 10 detainees overseas, perhaps in June, and want to find spots for 57 who've been approved for transfer by the end of the year.
"I am aware of the clock ticking," an unnamed defense official told the Post. "It’s going to take high-level leadership, and it’s going to take some big asks to some countries."
It won't be easy to persuade skeptical lawmakers: New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is sponsoring a bill to extend the ban on bringing detainees to the United States and would effectively bar future transfers to third countries.
The White House, for its part, is drafting a plan as an alternate to Ayotte's measure, and hopes to win over Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who's previously been open to shutting the prison, the Post reports.
"It's looking very difficult," Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state told the Post. "I don’t see what changes minds or persuades people at this point. But that’s what [the White House] is attempting to do."
But if Congress passes legislation to freeze the detention facility's population at its current level of 122, White House officials are even looking at options for a "unilateral closure" and moving detainees into the United States, the Post reports.
In the coming weeks, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will sign off on the repatriation of inmates to Morocco and Mauritania, and the transfer of six Yemeni prisoners to a third country.
Forty-eight of the prisoners approved for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay are Yemeni. They can't return there because of the political turmoil, the Post notes.
The Post reports Shaker Aamer, an alleged al-Qaida plotter and former U.K. resident whom British officials have lobbied Washington to release, could be released this summer, along with Ahmed Ould Abdel al-Aziz, a Mauritanian, who was first scheduled for release in 2009.
"We hope to God it is true," John Holland, an attorney for Aziz, told The Post.
Another detainee expected to be repatriated in June is Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri, a Moroccan whom U.S. officials once described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and a co-founder of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group. He was cleared for transfer in January 2010.
Carter is feeling the heat, the Post reports, as he takes over from his predecessor, Chuck Hagel, whose reluctance
to approve Guantanamo detainee moves caused friction with the White House shortly before he abruptly resigned last year.
"He understands that he has to transfer people and that he wants to do 'safe transfers,'" the official told the Post. "So he's trying to define what a safe transfer is."
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