And that brings me to my final topic: the detention of terrorist suspects.
I'm going to repeat one more time: As a matter of policy, the preference of the United States is to capture terrorist suspects. When we do detain a suspect, we interrogate them. And if the suspect can be prosecuted, we decide whether to try him in a civilian court or a military commission.
During the past decade the vast majority of those detained by our military were captured on the battlefield. In Iraq, we turned over thousands of prisoners as we ended the war. In Afghanistan, we have transitioned detention facilities to the Afghans as part of the process of restoring Afghan sovereignty. So we bring law-of-war detention to an end, and we are committed to prosecuting terrorists whenever we can.
The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The original premise for opening Gitmo, that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention, was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won't cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Gitmo. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people, almost a million dollars per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another 200 million (dollars) to keep Gitmo open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home and when the Pentagon is struggling is struggling with sequester and budget cuts.
As president, I have tried to close Gitmo. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from Gitmo with Congress' support. When I ran for president the first time, John McCain supported closing Gitmo. This was a bipartisan issue.
No person has ever escaped one of our super-max or military prisons here in the United States -- ever. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism or terrorism-related offenses, including some folks who are more dangerous than most Gitmo detainees there in our prisons. And given my administration's relentless pursuit of al-Qaida's leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that it should -- should have never been opened.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Excuse me, President Obama, you are the commander in chief -- (off mic) -- (applause) --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Today -- so -- (sustained applause) -- so let me finish, ma'am. So today -- so today, once again, today --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Off mic) -- for (102 ?) people -- (off mic) -- people's rights, these desperate people -- (off mic) --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm about to address, ma'am, but you got -- you got to let me speak. I'm about to address it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- (off mic) -- our commander in chief --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me address it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Our commander in chief -- (off mic) -- Guantanamo Bay --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Why don't you let me address it, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Off mic.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Why don't you sit down and I'll tell you exactly what I'm going to do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Off mic.)