Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Appropriations Committee. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Defense Secretary: Plan to Close Guantanamo Is A ‘Constructive Step’

Ash Carter says he’s working with the White House on a plan that will be submitted “per longstanding request” to Congress, calling it a “good opportunity” to see if they “can actually get it done.”

En route to Washington on Friday after his whirlwind globe-trotting trip, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the plan he’s working on with the White House to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison a “constructive step.” The revived effort by Obama administration and Pentagon officials to work with Congress on closing the facility was first reported Thursday by Defense One.

“With respect to [Guantanamo], I’m working with the White House to prepare a plan, which we'll then submit, per longstanding request, to Congress,” Carter told reporters. My own view is this is a very constructive step. It’s important to see if we can find a way forward from this that is widely shared enough that we can actually get it done, and so I think its a good opportunity, and well certainly follow through on that.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Defense One on Thursday that President Obama had spoken with him in recent weeks about closing the facility. McCain said Carter and Lisa Monaco, the president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, told him they were working on a closure plan to be submitted to Congress.

Carter’s comments also follow those of a senior Defense Department official who on Wednesday told Defense One that after a five-month freeze in transferring detainees from Gitmo to other countries, up to 10 detainees could be transferred in the coming weeks. These would be Carter’s first since taking the cabinet post in February.

Obama has established a policy by which the defense secretary may approve such transfers only after unanimous agreement from six national security agencies. Law stipulates that the administration is required to give Congress 30 days’ notice before such transfers. McCain told Defense One he hadn’t received any notification of any imminent transfer. “Any notifications of this kind are classified,” Armed Services committee spokesman Dustin Walker told Defense One Friday when asked to clarify. “Can’t get into it any further than that.”

In February, Carter promised during his confirmation hearings to “absolutely” resist any pressure to speed up transfers in an effort to empty the prison. Around that time, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who opposes closing Gitmo, told Defense One that she met with Carter and he told her that he agreed with the president it should be shuttered, but didn’t see how it was going to happen. Yet his comments on Friday indicate he sees the plan currently being drafted as a potential path forward.

A first test for Congress’s appetite for considering any plan to close the military prison may come this week as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushes to wrap up the contentious consideration of the annual defense authorization bill, or NDAA.

McCain, who is publicly spatting with the White House over its threats to veto the NDAA, has included a provision in the bill that would grant Obama the authority to close Guantanamo — but requires the president to get congressional approval for a plan to do so. The White House has rejected this proposal as “unnecessary and overly restrictive,” even as Carter and administration officials separately continue work on a plan for closure.