"There are a significant number of transfers in the pipeline at
various stages, and I think you are going to be seeing substantial
progress this year," a senior administration official, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, told a briefing for reporters on moves
toward closing the base.
The official declined to say how many of the 149 prisoners still at
the U.S. detention center at the naval base in Cuba are up for
transfer. Seventy-eight - including 58 Yemenis and four Afghans -
have been approved to be released without charge.
The detention camp, much-criticized by human rights groups and
others, has been back in the spotlight since Saturday when Sergeant
Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was released after being held for five years by
the Taliban, in exchange for five Taliban officials held at
Guantanamo for 12 years.
News of the swap, which was arranged without consulting Congress,
infuriated many lawmakers, particularly Republicans already
skeptical about the avowed intention of President Barack Obama, a
Democrat, to close the prison.
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate
Armed Services Committee, accused Obama of using Bergdahl's release
"as an opportunity to pursue his legacy of closing Guantanamo Bay"
in a column published at Time.com.
After being briefed about a potential swap of five prisoners for
Bergdahl in late 2011, Congress passed a law, which Obama signed in
early 2012, requiring the White House to give them 30 days' notice
of any transfers from Guantanamo.
Lawmakers contend that the Bergdahl swap deal violated that law
because they were not given notice of the Guantanamo transfers,
underscoring the tough fight ahead of the White House as it seeks to
shutter the prison.
[to top of second column]
Advocates for closing the camp say it violates U.S. principles such
as not holding prisoners without charge. It also acts as a
recruiting tool for anti-American militants, and is very expensive
to keep open.
It costs $2.7 million to $2.8 million per year to keep each detainee
at Guantanamo, compared with $78,000 per inmate at the highest
security prisons in the United States.
Current U.S. law does not allow any prisoners to be moved to the
United States from Guantanamo, for trial in federal courts or any
other reason, even medical emergency.
Lawmakers who favor closing the base have repeatedly introduced
legislation to allow some transfers to the United States. Most
recently, they included such provisions in a defense spending bill
currently making its way through Congress. Such legislation has
repeatedly failed to pass.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool)
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