Earnest: Moving Gitmo Detainees to U.S. ‘Doesn’t Pose a Threat to Our National Security’

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White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba remains a top priority for President Obama in 2016 and moving terrorists housed there to the United States would not pose a threat to national security.

Appearing on Fox News during a blitz of media appearances previewing Obama’s State of the Union address, Earnest told host Bill Hemmer that the expense involved in keeping detainees at Gitmo was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Hemmer noted that many terrorists freed from Gitmo have returned to their violent cause.

“You know there’s a fair percentage that go back to the battlefield to carry out terror yet again,” Hemmer said. “I know you’ve discussed this at the White House. If you close the prison, do they come here or do they go overseas?”

“Well, Bill, I think frankly, it’s probably going to end up being both,” Earnest said. “There are more of these detainees that we can transfer to other countries, who when put in the right security situation that we negotiate in advance, we can mitigate any risk that they pose to our national security. But the fact is, Bill, if we do have to bring some of those individuals to the United States, we’re going to put them in the same place where we’re already housing dozens of convicted terrorists in American prisons right now. That doesn’t pose a threat to our national security. That actually keeps us safe.”

Earnest didn’t directly answer a question about whether Obama would employ an executive order to force through the closure of Gitmo, but he said the White House “certainly” intended to close it by the time Obama leaves office next January.

Full exchange:

HEMMER: Gitmo. Chief of Staff McDonough with Chris Wallace over the weekend said the White House will work with Congress to close it. If that agreement does not happen, is there an executive order that will close Gitmo before January of next year, Josh?

EARNEST: Well, what we’re focused on right now, Bill, is trying to get Congress to remove the obstacles that have prevented us from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The president’s prepared to make good on that promise. The only reason he hasn’t is because he’s been stymied by Republicans and even some Democrats on Capitol Hill. Here’s the thing, Bill, that’s important for people to remember. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s not just the president and a bunch of Democrats who believe we need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. [President George W. Bush’s] secretary of state, his secretary of defense, they also agree that we need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, both because it doesn’t serve our national security interests, but also because we’re spending $4 million every year for each detainee to keep them locked up there. That’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars.

HEMMER: But you know many go back–You know there’s a fair percentage that go back to the battlefield to carry out terror yet again. Question. I know you’ve discussed this at the White House. If you close the prison, do they come here or do they go overseas?

EARNEST: Well, Bill, I think frankly, it’s probably going to end up being both. There are more of these detainees that we can transfer to other countries, who when put in the right security situation that we negotiate in advance, we can mitigate any risk that they pose to our national security. But the fact is, Bill, if we do have to bring some of those individuals to the United States, we’re going to put them in the same place where we’re already housing dozens of convicted terrorists in American prisons right now. That doesn’t pose a threat to our national security. That actually keeps us safe.

HEMMER: This is going to happen, then. That’s what I hear you saying.

EARNEST: Well, that’s certainly what we intend to do, and one of the president’s first promises was to follow through on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and this is certainly not a problem that he wants to pass on to the next president, whether that’s a Democrat or a Republican, frankly.

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