Obama continues push to close Gitmo

National Security
by Jim Henry
Posted 1/15/15, 02:15 pm

For six years, the Obama administration has tried—and failed—to keep one of the president’s most publicized 2008 campaign promises, closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. This week, Republicans in the Senate introduced legislation to block the transfer or release of Guantanamo Bay detainees a day before the administration transferred five Yemenis with known or suspected links to al-Qaeda.

“We have seen this administration, to try to fulfill a campaign promise, transferring detainees that have been designated either previously or currently as medium or high risk for re-engagement in terrorism,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the sponsor of the Senate bill. A transfer is when another country agrees to accept a detainee and work to contain the terrorist threat the detainee poses.

Ayotte said 30 percent of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay by the Obama and Bush administrations are suspected or confirmed to have returned to the battlefield. But the president isn’t budging. 

“The president himself has indicated, as have national security leaders who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations, that it’s in the clear national interest of the United States to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That continues to be the goal that this administration has,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier this week.

Cully Stimson of the Heritage Foundation is a former Judge Advocate General officer assigned to Guantanamo Bay. He said both the administrations of both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had practical and symbolic reasons for wanting to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

“They believe very strongly that it’s a blight on America’s reputation,” Stimson said. “The abuses that took place early on at Guantanamo … really, I think, brought to light the abuse that can take place by wayward criminals in uniform for our country,” Stimson said. But Guantanamo Bay today is nothing like its reputation as a place of torture and abuse, he said. Detainees have free medical and dental care, five calls to prayer per day, and a menu that is nutritious and culturally sensitive.

“I’ve eaten the detainee food every time I’ve been down there,” Stimson said. “It was like going to a sort of Mediterranean grill—fresh baked bread, lamb, vegetables, and what not.” Guantanamo Bay detainees also have unprecedented legal rights: They can hire lawyers and contest their imprisonment, something unheard of for prisoners of war.

“Nowhere else in the world, not in Afghanistan where we had detainees, certainly not in Iraq where we had detainees, were they given that privilege, and, in my humble opinion, nor should they have been,” Stimson said. He also said he didn’t think closing Guantanamo Bay was necessarily a bad thing. What matters, he said, is that the United States keeps its ability, legally and practically, to detain its enemies for the duration of a war.

“The last thing, conceptually, you really want to do during a war is to kill some of the enemy, engage the enemy, and, when you capture them, release them while the ongoing war happens,” Stimson said. “It’s an odd concept, but we’ve done it.”

Listen to Jim Henry’s report on Guantanamo Bay on The World and Everything in It: