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Obama urges closing of Guantánamo prison

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday he will mount a renewed effort to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, where scores of prisoners have been on a hunger strike.

"I'm going to go back at this," Obama said at a White House news conference. "I've asked my team to review everything that's currently being done in Guantánamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I'm gonna re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interest of the American people."

Obama's 2008 campaign promise to close the camp foundered in his first term after opposition in Congress. Many lawmakers opposed transferring prisoners to U.S. sites, and other countries were often reluctant to accept prison transfers.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), signaled Tuesday he is prepared to fight the proposal again.

"The president faces bipartisan opposition to closing Guantánamo Bay's detention center because he has offered no alternative plan regarding the detainees there, nor a plan for future terrorist captures," McKeon said.

A hunger strike that began in February with a handful of prisoners has now grown to about 100, said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale. The camp holds 166 prisoners, he said.

About 40 additional Navy medical personnel arrived at Guantánamo last weekend to assist with caring for inmates on the hunger strike, said Lt. Col. Samuel House, a prison spokesman.

As many as 21 of the 100 inmates on strike have lost enough body weight to be approved for feeding through a tube that's inserted through their noses, House said. "The bottom line is we will not allow them to die of starvation," he said.

Obama used a question about the hunger strike to make a new pitch for closing a camp that sprang up on the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station as an ad hoc location to house suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said. "It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."

Keeping "over 100 individuals in a no man's land in perpetuity" is not a sustainable policy, Obama said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, asked the administration to review the status of 86 prisoners who had been previously cleared for transfer to other countries.

"The fact that so many detainees have now been held at Guantánamo for over a decade, and their belief that there is still no end in sight for them, is a reason there is a growing problem of more and more detainees on a hunger strike," she said.

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