President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba last Tuesday, as part of an original campaign promise that he hopes to accomplish before leaving office. The Defense Department released the full 21-page document that outlines the process in which the Obama Administration plans to close the prison.
During the press conference, Obama said the facility “is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the higher standards of the rule of law. The plan we’re putting forth today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay, it isn’t just about dealing with the current group of detainees. This is about closing a chapter in our history. It reflects the lessons we’ve learned since 9/11. Lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.”
The plan focuses on transferring approximately 35 of the 91 current detainees to the United States, and implementing a periodic review board process to determine where the remaining 46 detainees will go. There are currently 10 detainees still in judicial proceedings, including the supposed mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
While the plan doesn’t explicitly outline what facilities Gitmo detainees would be sent to, many expect the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. to acquire a bulk of the transfers, as well as facilities in South Carolina and Colorado. Some detainees may qualify through the periodic review board to be transferred to overseas facilities.
The president cited the strains Gitmo creates with our foreign partnerships, and its counterproductive nature in combating international terrorism as a reason for closing the facility.
“For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it. This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts; this is the opinion of many in our military. It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit,“ Obama said during the press conference.
“It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees. Guantanamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism. When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantanamo is not resolved,” Obama continued.
Obama also acknowledged the savings closing the facility would create. Currently, the White House claims it costs the U.S. $445 million annually to maintain the facility at Gitmo, and that closing the prison and transferring its detainees could save the American taxpayer up to $85 million a year.
Republican members of Congress have stood firmly in opposition to Obama’s plan. Maine’s Second District Congressman Bruce Poliquin said in a press release, “President Obama has demonstrated, yet again, that he puts his party’s politics before protecting the American People. The transfer of dangerous, radicalized terrorists to American soil threatens the safety of citizens across our country.”
“Not only is the President’s plan dangerous and senseless, but it is indisputably illegal. President Obama himself signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 (NDAA), which specifically restricts any transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison,” Poliquin’s release added.
Obama acknowledged in his presentation that the plan must acquire congressional approval to be passed. With Republican control over both the House and Senate, approval seems unlikely. Republicans in Congress fear that mass transfers jeopardize the safety of Americans, and places the burden of these dangerous detainees on our local officials.
The prison in Guantanamo Bay has been under much scrutiny over the years due to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” practiced within its doors.
Obama banned the use of many of these techniques, including waterboarding, on detainees placed at Guantanamo. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) admitted in 2004 to waterboarding three suspects linked to al-Qaida and the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11.