US administration to proceed with Guantanamo transfers

Obama administration says it has found third countries for resettlement of Guantanamo detainees

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

The United States administration has found a dozen countries will accept the resettlement of the 52 Guantanamo prisoners who have been cleared for transfer, and plans to relocate the remaining detainees to supermax prisons within the country, US officials said on Friday.

During his presidential campaign and throughout his term in office President Barack Obama has vowed several times to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. However, starting in 2009, Congress has used its power over spending to block efforts to close Guantanamo.

They also block the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the US for any purpose. In addition, they mandate a certification requirement that transfers to foreign countries cannot be to the country of origin nor the United States, and thus must be to third countries.

The Obama administration has recently been preparing a broader plan, and the State Department’s Guantanamo envoy is in negotiation with several third countries that appear to be willing to accept some of the detainees.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration is making progress on drafting a plan and that they believe it will be ready by the time Congress returns from its summer recess in early September.

Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco recently said that the detainees who could not be transferred to third countries will be held in federal supermax or military prisons. However, this proposal is not likely to be welcomed by Congress which will likely pass several bills to bar the use of state funds “to modify or construct any facility,” in the US.  

The new State Department envoy, Lee Wolosky stated that the review process for the detainees who are “too dangerous to release” is going to be accelerated to determine if they could also be eligible for transfer in order to fulfil Obama’s promise to close the prison before his term ends.

The closure of the prison is being prioritised as US-Cuba relations are undergoing a normalisation process. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in July underscored that his country requests the return of US occupied territory in Guantanamo.

Although several countries are willing to accept detainees, it is the call of Defense Secretary Ash Carter to finalise the transfers with his signature. Carter, who is responsible for the recidivism risk of the detainees after the transfers, could delay the process. The White House is pressuring Carter to act within 30 days on each case to avoid a further backlog in the process.

In 2015 Estonia received a detainee for the first time, while Oman has received the most transfers, accepting ten detainees.

Yemenis, who are the largest group in Guantanamo, are the main stumbling block in the process. According to the New York Times, around 70 of the remaining 116 detainees in the prison are Yemenis, and they cannot be repatriated because of the war in their homeland.

On January 11, 2002, some of the terrorism suspects connected to the 9/11 attacks were taken to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The prisoners in the detention center have faced harsh treatment, including “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Although several officials have said that these techniques are not illegal, it was later revealed in a Senate Intelligence Committee report that some of the practices could be defined as torture. Some detainees who were long ago cleared for release have also been subjected to these techniques.

In addition to the international outcry demanding the closure of the detention center, Obama also stated that he believes “we live in a more dangerous world, not a less dangerous world” due to the anti-terrorism policies in the prison.

In the early days of his presidency Obama signed three executive orders which declared his intention to close Guantanamo within a year, banned harsh interrogation techniques, and created the Guantanamo Review Task Force to consider the threat posed by individual detainees.

By placing restrictions on prosecutions in federal courts and transfers to foreign countries the Republican controlled Congress has hindered the closing of the facility.

Obama is still trying to fulfill his promise to close the prison by balancing the desires of the Republican majority Congress with justice for the detainees that have long been cleared for release. Congress, on the other hand, seems to be insisting on keeping the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay Prison instead of risking US national security.

TRTWorld and agencies