Barack Obama to make good on pledge to close Guantanamo Bay

Washington: President Barack Obama will make good on a promise to close the US naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, his chief of staff Denis McDonough said on Sunday.

Mr Obama will first present a long-awaited plan to Congress about how to close the facility, and seek its approval, Mr McDonough. If Congress fails to act, the White House will determine what steps to take, he said.

"He feels an obligation to the next president. He will fix this so that they don't have to be confronted with the same set of challenges," Mr McDonough said.

Mr Obama pledged during the 2008 presidential election campaign that he would close the military prison, which housed foreign terrorism suspects after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

That pledge has been a feature of his annual State of the Union addresses to the nation ever since.

Mr Obama has said the facility has been used as a recruiting tool in propaganda from groups like al-Qaeda, and also is far too costly to maintain. There are 104 detainees left at the prison.


Where possible, his administration has transferred detainees to other countries, but there is a small number of detainees who the administration says it would like to detain in a US facility for national security reasons.

Congress has explicitly banned the transfer of detainees to the United States.

Mr McDonough declined to say whether Mr Obama would close the prison using his own executive powers if Congress rejects his plan.

Syrian refugee to share State of the Union box  

The White House also confirmed on Sunday that Mr Obama had invited a Syrian refugee to sit in the First Lady's box for the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

The symbolic gesture to invite Refaai Hamo, 55, who fled Syria in 2013 and was cleared by US authorities to arrive in Detroit last month.

Mr Hamo, a scientist, will sit in Michelle Obama's box along with other guests who represent the president's priorities.

The White House released a list of 23 guests who represent the policy priorities the president has championed in his seven years in office.

The list includes Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy, whose state raised the minimum wage to $US10.10 an hour; Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, who immigrated to the United States; and Spencer Stone, a US Air Force staff sergeant who helped two other Americans foil a terrorist attack on a French train. One seat in the first lady's box will be left empty to represent victims of gun violence.

Mr Hamo's wife and daughter were killed when a bomb struck his family's home, prompting him to flee in 2013 to Turkey, before attempting to enter the United States.

He and his four surviving children now live in Detroit, and his ordeal was featured in a popular blog, Humans of New York.

"If they will only call me a refugee. I don't want to be here. I want to be a good citizen," he said at a news conference at the airport when he arrived.

Mr Obama and Democratic presidential candidates, including front-runner Hillary Clinton, have called anti-Muslim rhetoric anti-American.

"As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you've endured," Mr Obama said on the Humans of New York Facebook post.

"You and your family are an inspiration. I know that the great people of Michigan will embrace you with the compassion and support you deserve. Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we're proud that you'll pursue your dreams here. Welcome to your new home. You're part of what makes America great."

Reuters, The Washington Post