“There’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction,” Obama said.
Even his health-care law — the signature legislation of his presidency — remains a work in progress. Obama defended the complicated implementation process that will extend health care to the estimated 15 percent of the population that does not have it.
In assuring the public that the process is not nearly as messy as some members of Congress have portrayed it, Obama said that people who are insured will probably see no further changes as the law takes full effect. He also warned of challenges ahead.
“Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps,” Obama said.
His pledge for a renewed effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay comes as the hunger strike by detainees has highlighted the legal ambiguities surrounding their detention. Obama has been working to shutter the prison since the day after he took office in 2009; on Tuesday he again cited Congress as the chief obstacle.
Of the 166 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, 100 are on a hunger strike, with 21 being force-fed, according to Lt. Col. Samuel House, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo. House said that five of the hunger-striking detainees are being treated in a hospital at the base but that none have a life-threatening condition.
The Navy sent 40 additional medical personnel to Guantanamo Bay over the weekend in response to the increasing numbers of detainees on hunger strike. The military said the move was planned several weeks ago.
Defending the move, Obama said Tuesday, “I don’t want these individuals to die.”
According to attorneys for the detainees, the initial catalyst for the three-month-old hunger strike was newly aggressive searches by guards that involved the manhandling of Korans.
The military said all searches of Korans were conducted by Muslim cultural advisers, not by the guard force. They noted that in the past detainees have used their Korans to hide contraband.
The hunger strike has since become a wider protest against what the detainees view as the administration’s abandonment of its effort to close the facility, according to both the military and detainees’ attorneys.
About 86 detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer home or resettlement in a third country by a Justice Department-led interagency task force, but the transfers ground to a halt after Congress imposed restrictions on moving detainees.
Human rights groups praised Obama’s decision to resurrect efforts to close the military detention facility but said he already has the power to act despite congressional restrictions.
“President Obama is right to recommit to closing Guantanamo. But it’s time to do more than talk,” Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security With Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
Peter Finn contributed to this report.
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