Politics Slows White House Push to Close Gitmo
White House and Pentagon take a slow approach.
Plans to potentially transfer prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to prisons in the United States are progressing slowly, if at all, as politicians from both parties continue to balk at the idea of moving militants into prisons in their states and districts.
Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said on Tuesday that a team from the department has already visited the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, a Kansas facility that is the Pentagon’s only maximum security prison. Cook said the Pentagon is also interested in looking at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C. as a potential site to house dozens of prisoners.
But there is no timeline for when the assessment team will actually visit the facility in Charleston, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross tells FP. And Cook said that no other locations have yet been identified for consideration.
The plan ran into another roadblock on Tuesday with the release of a strongly-worded letter from two Republican governors who called any transfer of detainees to the United States “illegal.” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley sent the letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday, vowing to block any transfer of prisoners to their states.
“Simply put, we do not want them in our states,” Brownback and Haley wrote.
“Suspected and convicted terrorists have been held in the United States for years without a single security incident,” the Pentagon’s Cmdr. Ross said. “Only those locations that can hold detainees at a maximum security level will be considered.”
Opposition to closing Gitmo has been a bipartisan issue in Washington over the years. In 2009, Senate Democrats blocked $80 million in funding that the White House had requested to close the facility.
Closing the prison was one of the campaign promises made by President Barack Obama in 2008, and Carter said earlier this month that “as long as this detention facility remains open, it will remain a rallying cry for jihadi propaganda.” There are currently 116 detainees at Guantanamo, a number of whom have been held there for up to a decade without charge. A total of 52 detainees have been cleared for release but remain behind bars, pending the final approval of secretary Carter. A small percentage of freed detainees have returned to the fight, further complicating the White House’s attempts to shutter the facility.
Indeed, the work is slow going. The Pentagon is due to issue a report to Congress on its efforts to close the facility some time this fall, but on Tuesday, Cook said he does not have a specific date for when the prison would be closed. “I just know that we’d like to do it soon,” he said.
But with only one site having been surveyed so far, and state leaders pushing back, the Pentagon and the White House have a long road ahead.
“Any detainee transfer from Guantanamo Bay to the United States would be a violation of federal law,” Haley and Brownback wrote in their letter. “We will not be part of any illegal and ill-advised action by this Administration, especially when that action relates to importing terrorists into our states.”
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