No More Guantanamo Releases to Be Sought Under Obama, Defense Secretary Says

IMAGE: Guantanamo Bay detention center
The U.S. detention center at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.AP

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By Courtney Kube and Alex Johnson

While the Obama administration won't seek to remove any more detainees from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some are still likely to leave the facility before President Barack Obama's term ends, senior defense officials told NBC News on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at a news briefing Tuesday that no more requests for detainees to leave the center can occur before Obama leaves office next week. That's because Congress must be notified at least 30 days before any detainees can be transferred, and with Obama leaving office on Jan. 20, that deadline ran out last month.

Two senior defense officials told NBC News, however, that Congress was informed of requests to release 15 more detainees before the deadline — meaning they could be freed before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The U.S. detention center at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.AP

The Defense Department announced this week that four detainees had been transferred from the base to Saudi Arabia, leaving 55 in custody. "It will be up to my successor" what to do with any others, Carter said Tuesday.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump's nominee to replace Carter at the Pentagon, has voiced strong opposition to releasing detainees at Guantanamo.

As recently as last month, Trump himself asked Obama to stop releasing detainees, and during the presidential campaign, he even said he'd be "fine" with sending U.S. citizens accused of terrorism to the base.

Related: Why Obama Likely Won't Be Able to Close Guantanamo

Obama had sought to close the facility since he took office eight years ago but was unable to overcome sustained logistical, political and congressional obstacles.

Last month, the president cited continued operation of the facility among his objections when he signed a $611 billion military appropriations bill, saying, "It will be judged harshly by history."