Close Guantanamo Plan Not Enough, Action Needed
The Obama Administration reportedly is finalizing a formal plan to close the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. The plan, which was requested by Senator John McCain, is seen as part of negotiations with Congress over the controversial prison. Though presenting a formal closure plan is a good step, President Obama must be prepared to do more.
This year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill that authorizes defense spending for the year, currently contains particularly egregious restrictions on President Obama’s ability to transfer Guantanamo detainees cleared for release. In recent years Congress has relaxed some transfer restrictions, but if the NDAA passes in its current form, the new law would again severely limit the administration’s ability to transfer prisoners and ultimately close the prison in a responsible way. President Obama has threatened to veto the NDAA if these harsher restrictions make it into the final bill, and needs to follow through on this promise if that happens.
Currently there are 116 detainees at Guantanamo, and 52 of them have been cleared for transfer by all relevant government agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department, and others. President Obama should make sure that the cleared detainees are transferred as quickly as possible, and that no one in his administration is putting obstacles in the way of that goal. He should also ensure that the Periodic Review Board (PRB) – which decides whether detainees slated for indefinite detention without charge or trial are still a threat to the United States – is well resourced and conducts reviews at a much faster rate than it has been. Since it started in 2013, the PRB has only held 17 hearings. Fifty-two detainees are still eligible for review.
Human Rights First included these important steps in our December 2014 policy blueprint for closing Guantanamo. These recommendations are just as relevant today. With just 18 months of his presidency left, we’re pleased that President Obama seems to be making Guantanamo a priority again with the pending release of this plan. But plans need to be coupled with action. Vetoing a harmful NDAA, transferring cleared detainees, and speeding up the prisoner review process are concrete steps he can take to make it happen.