President Obama has faced numerous roadblocks from Republicans preventing him from following through on his pledge to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the latest obstacle comes from his own attorney general, Loretta Lynch, Reuters reports, citing senior administration officials. At least twice in the past three months, Lynch has reportedly stepped in to block a proposal to allow certain inmates to plead guilty in U.S. federal court via videoconference — thus averting a ban on Guantanamo inmates coming to the U.S. mainland instituted by congressional Republicans. Those inmates would then be imprisoned in a third country.
Lynch's objections are grounded in the laws and customs of criminal procedures, which Justice Department officials say block both pleading guilty over videoconferencing and also pleading guilty without adequate options. "There were some frustrations," a White House official told Reuters. "The top lawyer in the land has weighed in, and that was the DOJ's purview to do that." The State Department, Pentagon, and defense lawyers for the remaining Guantanamo detainees all back the measure.
Obama has reduced the Guantanamo prison population to 80, from about 240 when he took office, and the White House expects 30 detainees cleared for transfer to be moved overseas in the next few months. Another 10 could be approved for transfer later, and 10 more are being tried in military tribunals. Of the remaining 30 detainees, the White House says that 10 to 20 could be dispatched through videoconference guilty pleas, and with 10 to 20 prisoners being guarded by 2,000 military personnel, Obama might finally win congressional backing for closing the prison. Some of the prisoners in limbo were tortured by the U.S., making their evidence inadmissible in U.S. courts. "The beauty of a guilty plea is you don't need a trial," a senior administration official tells Reuters.