December 27, 2013

Obama praises steps toward closing prison at Guantanamo Bay

But in a statement after signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, he says the actions lack the flexibility he would need to complete the process.

By Maeve Reston
Los Angeles Times

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A soldier closes the gate at the now abandoned Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba on Nov. 21, 2013. The facility was used as the first detention facility for al-Qaida and Taliban militants who were captured after the Sept. 11 attacks Detainees were housed in open air pens until the completion of Camp Delta in April 2002. Many detainees at Guantanamo Bay may be closer to heading home under a bipartisan deal reached in Congress that gives President Barack Obama a rare victory in his fight to close the prison for terror suspects.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Transfers to Yemen have been particularly difficult, as Yemenis remain the largest single population by nationality at Guantanamo and that nation is a hub for al-Qaida. There is no structure to reintegrate detainees into Yemen's society and ensure they are not a security risk, although the Obama administration has been in discussions with Yemen about the creation of a rehabilitation center for returned prisoners.

The law also contains a provision meant to force U.S. military services to share the same camouflage patterns in their uniforms. It is intended to end a period in which all the branches tried to come up with their camouflage — with expensive and uneven results.

In 2002, the services shared just two kinds of camouflage: a green pattern for the woods and a brown one for the desert. But then, individual services began to develop their own — and, often, refused to share them. By this year, there were 10 designs in use.

Not all of them worked well. The Army had a "universal" camouflage pattern that was not universal, after all — it didn't work in Afghanistan. The Air Force had an "Airman Battle Uniform," which it warned airmen in Afghanistan not to wear in battle. And the Navy had a blue-patterned uniform, which sailors feared would camouflage them only if they fell overboard. Altogether, the services had spent $12 million on uniform design, often duplicating one another's work.

Then, after a Washington Post story described the proliferation of camouflage, Rep. William Enyart, D-Ill., offered an amendment that would require the services to begin sharing camouflage patterns — the provision included in the law that Obama signed Thursday.

The new law requires the defense secretary to "adopt and field a common combat and camouflage utility uniform or family of uniforms . . . to be used by all members of the Armed Forces." Under the law, the services can keep their current camouflage patterns as long as they like, but they are prohibited from adopting new ones unless the new patterns are already in use by another service — or intended to be shared by all of them.

The law allows exceptions for uniforms worn by Special Operations troops.

The president signed the laws with little fanfare at his secluded vacation home in Kailua, Hawaii, where he has been spending the holidays with his family. The traveling press pool was not allowed to witness the signing. The White House distributed Obama's statement to reporters electronically.

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