President Barack Obama said he will again press to close the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, calling it "not something that's in the best interest of the American people."
"I'm going to go back at this," Obama said at a White House press conference Tuesday morning, in response to a question about prisoners staging an on-going hunger strike over being held without trial.
"The idea we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, it's contrary to who we are. It's contrary to our interests and it's got to stop," Obama said. "All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this?"
The president blamed Congress for stopping his previous efforts to close the camp, which was one of his campaign promises in 2008 presidential elections. He said he would examine what he could do with administrative orders, but "ultimately we're going to need some help from Congress."
"I'm going to reengage with Congress to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interest of the American people," Obama said.
Obama said he understood the reaction of Americans to create a special facility for suspected terrorists in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"But we're now over a decade out, we should be wiser, we should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists," Obama said.
To that point, Obama listed several terrorists who are now serving prison terms in the United States, including the man planning to bomb Times Square and the Shoe Bomber in Detroit. "We can handle this," Obama said.
Camp officials are force-feeding the prisoners participating in the hunger strike. Obama said he did not want them to die. There are currently 100 hunger strikers at Guantánamo, with five hospitalized and 21 being fed through tubes, according to a Miami Herald tally from military officials.
Washington-based civil rights groups were quick to respond. "President Obama is right. Guantánamo does not make our nation safer and is a problem that will continue to fester if it is left unaddressed," Human Rights First's Daphne Eviatar said in a statement. "The writing is on the wall. It's time for the failed Guantánamo experiment to end and for our nation to return to the values that have kept us strong."
However, the American Civil Liberties Union said on its website blog Monday that the Obama administration so far this year have only taken steps backward on Guantánamo. Obama in January signed a law renewing restrictions on transfers from Guantánamo, and the administration shut down the State Department office working to resettle Guantánamo prisoners, the ACLU said.