WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to close it. The international community has condemned it.
On Christmas Eve, however, when it came time for him to wish some American service members a Merry Christmas for his last time in office, President George W. Bush rang up a North Carolina man who's assigned to the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Neil Ambrose, of Edenton, N.C., answered the call at the remote Navy base in southeast Cuba.
The president stuck to a template of thanking Ambrose for his service, a White House tradition, and then broke from the script.
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"How's the weather down there?" Bush asked, according to an account from Guantanamo.
"It's warm," Ambrose replied. "How would you like to join us?"
Ambrose had been assigned since September to Port Security Unit 305, based at Fort Eustis, Va., and attached to prison camp operations. He's a Security Fire Team Leader, and a White House statement said he's in charge of six junior enlisted Coast Guard personnel.
Some security unit members patrol Guantanamo Bay in heavily armed fast boats called Vipers. Others do courtroom security duty at the camp's military commissions, the controversial court proceedings whose future is uncertain since Obama has vowed to close Guantanamo and favors civilian criminal trials and military courts martial.
Asked if his son thought the prison camp should be closed, Ambrose's father, Larry, a builder who served for 25 years in the National Guard and lives in Edenton, told McClatchy: "He believes in his job."
The president also rang up eight other enlisted service members stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, all of them either fighting or supporting his war on terrorism.
"U.S. military bases open and close over the years," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said from Crawford, Texas, on Friday. "But the service men and women will continue in service, and the president wants to thank them for the hard work they do."
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald. Lightman reported from Washington.)
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