Regardless of Safety Concerns, Obama Still Releasing GITMO Detainees
The Department of Defense has announced plans to transfer as many as 10 detainees from the Guantanamo Detention Center in Cuba. These would be the first prisoners to leave Guantanamo under new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
1 Deserter for 5 Taliban
The Obama administration received strong criticism after transferring 5 high level Taliban detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. After abandoning his post in Afghanistan Bergdahl was reportedly held captive by Afghan fighters. Bergdahl has been charged with desertion. His courts martial is expected to begin in September.
The 5 Taliban were transferred to Qatar with travel restrictions set to expire previously under the terms of the May 2014 exchange for Bergdahl. A State Dept. official said the ban would remain in place until diplomatic talks for a longer-term solution were completed.
Releasing Gitmo Detainees – a Campaign Promise
President Obama famously said he would close Guantanamo 12 months after taking office. More than 6 years in office, he is still trying to keep that promise regardless of the safety implications for America.
Currently there are 122 detainees at GITMO from 18 countries. Pentagon officials have stated they could cut that number by 50% in the coming months. Following the 10 to be released in the coming weeks, another 57 have been cleared for release or relocation.
The most dangerous are left
Obama Administration officials are quick to point out the Bush Administration released or transferred more than 500 detainees. Detainees are evaluated for terror ties, crimes and likelihood of again taking up arms against America. It’s reasonable the less dangerous, lower level detainees would be released sooner and faster than higher level detainees such as the 5 Taliban exchanged for Bergdahl.
The remaining detainees are considered the most dangerous posing the greatest threat to American safety.
The first 20 detainees arrived at GITMO Camp X-Ray on January 11, 2002. Since, a total of 780 detainees have been held at GITMO with the largest detainee population being 677 in July 2003.
Of those detainees currently held at Guantanamo, 33 are listed as ‘indefinite detainees’ without charge or trial date.
Recognizing a Republican controlled House and Senate would oppose efforts to close GITMO, the Obama administration sped up transfers in a race to empty the detention center. Those transfers came to an abrupt halt in January when the newly elected GOP controlled congress took office.
A Pentagon official who wished to remain anonymous, on Wednesday said,
“You’re likely to see some progress in June. I just talked to the National Security Council and State [Department], so we can say maybe up to 10 — no specific timeframe, but in the near future. And then we’re actively engaged with a number of countries in additional negotiations regarding the 57 that are eligible. But sometime this summer, maybe June, up to 10.”
Referring to Secretary Carter’s desire to close Guantanamo, the official said,
“He has also said that he wants to take a holistic approach. So he wants to focus on the 57 who are cleared for transfer, but he wants to see what we’re doing with the rest of those. So he’s thinking about all 122, not just the 57.”
“I think it’s fair to say he’s fully engaged in all things Guantanamo — transfers, dealing with the Senate and the House and the Hill, talking with the White House on a regular basis.”
Congress continues to oppose the President’s efforts to close GITMO. On Wednesday, both the House and Senate began debate on the 2016 Defense Authorization Act or NDAA.
Both the House and Senate version of the NDAA would extend current restrictions on transferring prisoners to the United States, and restore stricter provisions stripped out in past years. The House version would strip 25 percent of the Defense budget as punishment for failing to provide all documents related to the detainees swapped for Bowe Bergdahl.
What’s the plan- Congress wants to know
The senate version contains a compromise authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.: the president can close the prison if he can draw up a plan that gets Congressional approval; if not, stricter restrictions go into effect. Senator McCain said,
“This legislation contains a bipartisan compromise on how to address the challenge of the detention facility of Guantanamo Bay. President Obama has said from day one of his presidency that he wants to close Guantanamo, but six and a half years into his administration, the President has never provided a plan to do so.”
The administration has vowed to veto the NDAA bill if it places undue restrictions on closing GITMO. A policy statement released by the Administration said,
“The bill also continues unwarranted restrictions, and imposes onerous additional ones, regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay. These provisions undermine our national security by limiting our ability to act as our military, diplomatic, and other national security professionals deem appropriate in a given case.”
The Obama Administration argues the NDAA bills move backward rather than forward on closing the facility and that portions are unconstitutional infringements on the executive’s power saying,
“This process for congressional approval is unnecessary and overly restrictive.”
If the proposed bill limits Obama’s executive power, isn’t that a good thing?