WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama intends to transfer up to 18 more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay before leaving the White House, the New York Times reported, further whittling detainee numbers but leaving a central campaign promise unfulfilled.
The White House has notified Congress that Obama intends to make a final transfer of 17 or 18 of the 59 remaining inmates before he steps down January 20, the Times reported on Monday.
Obama came to office vowing to close the facility, which opened in 2002 and which he has described as "contrary to our values."
But he has run up against legal hurdles, Pentagon foot dragging and stubborn Congressional opposition.
President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to "load (Guantanamo) up with some bad dudes."
This latest action would likely spell the end of prison critics' hopes that Obama will close the controversial facility by executive order.
The White House is not sure such a move would work -- or be legally sound.
"While welcome, these transfers are not nearly sufficient. We are demanding and expecting bold moves from President Obama to finally shutter the detention camp at Guantanamo in his final days," said Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA's director of Security with Human Rights.
"He must not leave it to Trump."
The Pentagon and White House declined to comment, and typically don't do so until after transfers are completed.
Of the 59 men still at Guantanamo, 22 have been cleared for transfer.
Another 27 remain in legal limbo -- the so-called "forever prisoners" have not been charged with anything, but have been deemed too dangerous to release.
The other 10, including the alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks, have been charged and are going through a glacially slow military prosecution at Guantanamo.
The White House has struggled to find a solution to the vexed question as to what to do with the forever detainees, and it is uncertain they could be convicted in a civilian court.
Obama had tried to transfer many detainees abroad and bring the most high value detainees to the United States.
But funding was blocked by Republicans.
A House Republican aide told AFP the reported rush of transfers would likely lead to higher recidivism rates.
"This most recent round of those released will be more likely to return to the battlefield given that their being held for this long is evidence that they were deemed greater security risks," he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, about 780 inmates have been housed in the US military-run facility.
In recent months, Obama has authorised a flurry of transfers of prisoners to other countries including Yemen and Saudi Arabia -- prompting howls of outrage from Republicans each time.
Because the Guantanamo Bay naval base is on Cuban and not US soil, it is not subject to the same federal laws and legal processes as the United States.