President Obama writes powerful open letter to Congress asking them to close Guantanamo Bay prison

The President blamed Congress for failing to close the prison, and having more regard for partisan support than taxpayer money and national safety

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The Independent US

President Barack Obama has renewed his appeal to close controversial military prison Guantanamo Bay, accusing a partisan Congress for placing politics above taxpayer money, national safety and common sense.

In an open letter to Congress the day before he hands the White House to Donald Trump, the 44th President said there was "no justification" for keeping the prison open as it costs too much money, employs military members who could be better employed elsewhere, harms relationships with allies and is used by terrorists as propaganda against the US.

Mr Obama said if shutting the prison had been "easy", he would have done it years ago, but blamed a Republican-led Congress for failure to complete an action which he had set out to do in 2009. He said history would judge them "harshly" as a result.

The prison in Cuba has long been criticised for degrading human rights and using torture methods like force-feeding. Over his two terms in Washington DC, he has brought the inmate population down significantly from nearly 800 to just 41 people, with 15 cleared for release. 

Mr Obama released 10 people this week, and another four were released earlier this month. One Yemeni prisoner was held for 14 years without ever being charged for a crime.

"The restrictions imposed by the Congress that prevent us from imprisoning detainees - even to prosecute and secure a life sentence - in the United States make no sense," he said.

"No person has ever escaped one of our super-max or military prisons here, ever. There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open."

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He said he had sent a plan to Congress on how to close the facility, securing safe transfers of prisoners abroad and opening a new facility for any inmate that still posed a threat to the US.

"Guantanamo is contrary to our values and undermines our standing in the world," he wrote, "and it is long past time to end this chapter in our history."

Many Republicans have vowed to keep the original facility open, including the President-elect.

Speaking at a rally earlier this year, Mr Trump said: "This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open ... and we're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."

Guantanamo Bay was opened 15 years ago during the office of George W Bush, shortly after terrorists bombed the Twin Towers.