Congress Urged to Reject Provisions in NDAA to Ban Transfer of Guantanamo Detainees
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of Congress to reject onerous provisions in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make it nearly impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility by the end of his term in office. The NDAA was passed by the House Armed Services Committee just hours before this morning’s House hearing on the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
“These unnecessary and unwise transfer restrictions make America less—not more—safe,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “National security leaders from across the political spectrum agree that keeping Guantanamo Bay open bolsters our enemies, giving them a propaganda tool for recruitment. If Congress is serious about protecting Americans, it will work with the president to close this shameful symbol by the end of his term in office.”
The provisions would ban all transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for any reason, including trial in federal court. They also ban transfers to Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, and impose onerous certification requirements on transfers to other overseas locations.
In a statement for the record ahead of this morning’s House Homeland Security Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee hearing, “Transferring Guantanamo Bay Detainees to the Homeland: Implications for States and Local Communities,” Major General Michael R. Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), the first commanding officer of Guantanamo Bay, urged members of Congress to close Guantanamo, writing, “Guantanamo’s continued existence hurts us in our prosecution of the fight against terrorists. It feeds into the narrative that the United States is not a nation of laws nor one that respects human rights… We can win the fight against terrorism and religious extremism, but only if we adhere to our American values. If we kill every terrorist on the planet but in the process abandon the Constitution and our values, then in their deaths they will have succeeded, and we will no longer be Americans and this country will no longer be the bastion of democracy, freedom, and liberty.”
In a separate statement James A. Gondles, Jr., executive director of the American Correctional Association, noted that corrections facilities in the United States are more than capable of housing Guantanamo detainees, as they already detain hundreds of convicted terrorists without incident. “Hundreds of convicted terrorists have gone to prison in the United States since 9/11. None has escaped. None has created security threats for the communities near the prisons. Few, if any, Americans even realize when a dangerous criminal arrives at a prison in their city, county, or state because politicians aren’t drawing attention to this occurrence, telling them they ought to be afraid,” he wrote. “The Guantanamo prison has been a source of debate since its inception. But there should be no debate about the U.S. corrections systems’ ability to hold Guantanamo detainees should they be transferred stateside.”
Earlier this year, the Pentagon released the administration’s plan for closing Guantanamo, which includes the accelerated transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared for transfer by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings, of the remaining detainees who are not facing trial to determine if they can be cleared for transfer. The remaining detainees who will not be transferred in the near term—a number not to exceed 60—will be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This will result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 80 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, about $5.5 million per detainee.
Last month 36 retired generals and admirals of the U.S. Armed Forces sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, urging them to carefully consider the Obama Administration’s plan to close Guantanamo, and to work with the president to shutter the detention facility. “Closing Guantanamo will not be easy, but it is the right thing to do, and we call on you to work together to accomplish it. We take heart that our nation has elected people who will exercise their conscientious judgment, but who will not allow politics to obscure courage,” wrote the generals and admirals.