by Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON-President Obama said Tuesday that his administration would re-engage Congress on closing the U.S. military-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
"It needs to be closed," Obama said at a White House news conference marking the first 100 days of his second term. "I'm going to go back at this."
Obama's comments come amid reports that as many as 100 prisoners at Guantanamo are engaged in a hunger strike. Obama had vowed in his 2008 presidential campaign to close Guantanamo but failed to get it done in his first term.
"It' is not a surprise to me that we are having problems at Guantanamo," Obama said. Obama called Guantanamo unsafe and expensive and said it lessens cooperation with U.S. allies.
He noted that Congress has legislatively blocked him from closing Guantanamo but offered no solution to getting around that hurdle.
"I am going to re-engage with Congress that this is not in the best interest of the American people," Obama said.
The president added that Guantanamo might have been seen as necessary after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the president says the time to close the prison for high-value terror suspects who were captured on foreign soil is now.
"This is a lingering problem that is not going to get better," Obama says. "It's going to get worse."
Obama also appeared to defend the Defense Department's decision to force feed the striking prisoners."I don't want these individuals to die," he said.
Meanwhile, Obama addressed intelligence reports that show chemical weapons were likely deployed in Syria. He said it would be a "game-changer" if it is confirmed that Syria's President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his people.
But when pressed on whether confirmation would mean military action, the president said that it only means that his administration would have to rethink its options.
"We don't know how they were used, when they were used or who used them," Obama said.
Obama had previously drawn a "red line" on the use or transfer of chemical weapons by Assad's regime.
Obama said that taking additional action without hard evidence could compromise the U. S. position internationally.
"If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves where we can't mobilize the international community to support what we do," Obama said.
But Obama stressed that if it is confirmed that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, his administration would take new action.
Obama also pushed back against criticism from some GOP lawmakers that have suggested that the FBI dropped the ball when the Russian government asked it to investigate one of the Boston bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in 2011.
"Based on what I've seen so far, the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing," Obama said. "But this is hard stuff."
In other developments, Obama commented about Jason Collins, the NBA player who became the first active athlete in major league sports to come out as gay. Obama said he spoke to Collins on Monday and called him "a terrific young man."
"I told him that I could not be prouder of him," Obama said.
Obama also responded to criticism about his inability to get the Senate to pass legislation to enhance background checks in the aftermath of last year's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 small children and six educators dead.
Asked whether he had "any juice" left to get anything done in Washington, Obama responded jokingly that it sounded like he "should just pack up and go home."
The president then paraphrased Mark Twain.
"Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated," he said.
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