United States President Barack Obama is to make a fresh attempt to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp as more doctors were sent to deal with a hunger strike that has spread to more than two thirds of detainees.
Obama, who pledged to close the camp during his 2008 election campaign but was thwarted by Congress, said yesterday: "Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."
The military camp was set up by the Bush Administration after the September 11 attacks. The fate of the 166 detainees - 86 of whom are being held indefinitely, despite being cleared for release - has been the subject of a decade of outcry by legal and human rights groups.
Acknowledging the injustice of detention without trial, Obama said that he was "not surprised" that 100 detainees had chosen death by hunger strike rather than life in Guantanamo, but pledged to keep those detainees alive, by force-feeding if necessary.
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Obama said he had told officials to "re-engage" with Congress, which blocked attempts to have detainees tried in federal courts, to identify all possible administrative measures that could get detainees returned home or to third party countries.
Civil and human rights groups described the move as "long overdue".
"The blame rests not only with Congress but also with the Obama Administration, and they must work together to address the serious human rights violations that are occurring in Guantanamo," said Amrit Singh, of the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative.