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WASHINGTON, D.C., Fri. Aug. 6, 2021, (Reuters): Will President Joe Biden cave to pressure from within his own party and close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

Dozens of U.S. House of Representatives Democrats, including the leaders of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, hope so. They called on President Biden on Thursday to immediately close the military prison in Cuba.

Weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which helped lead to the prison’s opening, the 75 lawmakers sent a letter calling the prison’s continued operation a stain on the country’s reputation that undermines its ability to advocate for human rights and the rule of law.

“We ask that as you take the steps necessary to finally close the prison, you act immediately to further reduce its population, ensure that the remaining detainees are treated humanely, and increase the transparency of military commission proceedings at Guantanamo,” they wrote.

The signatories included the chairmen of the national securities committees – Armed Services’ Adam Smith, Foreign Affairs’ Gregory Meeks and Intelligence’s Adam Smith, illustrating a growing level of comfort in Congress for shutting the prison, which costs millions of dollars to operate and decried by the human rights community.

Opened under Republican President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks, the prison’s population peaked at about 800 inmates. Democratic President Barack Obama whittled down the number, but his effort to close the prison was stymied by opposition in Congress from some of his fellow Democrats as well as Republicans.

The Biden administration announced on July 19 that it had repatriated its first detainee. The transfer reduced the prisoner population to 39, most of whom have been held for nearly two decades without being charged or tried.

Congress passed laws barring transfers of Guantanamo inmates to prisons on the U.S. mainland. Democrats now control Congress, but their majorities are so slim that changing the laws would be difficult.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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