Defense Authorization Includes Rights-Respecting Provisions on Guantanamo, Military Involvement at Southern Border

Washington, D.C.Human Rights First today welcomed provisions in the House of Representatives’ defense bill (The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA) that bolster national security and uphold America’s commitment to human rights. The bill, which is being considered in the House Armed Services Committee today, takes meaningful steps forward by providing a pathway to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and by restricting the use of military personnel and funding for immigration enforcement purposes. Human Rights First is working to strengthen these provisions, and opposes anticipated amendments that would weaken or eliminate them.

The bill contains a prohibition on transferring additional detainees to Guantanamo and would eliminate existing, harmful transfer restrictions that make it difficult to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. Reports suggest that some members will offer an amendment that would roll back this progress and maintain the unsustainable status quo on Guantanamo. In response, Major General (ret.) Michael R. Lehnert, the first commander of Guantanamo after the 9/11 attacks, said the following:

Guantanamo prison was a mistake. It is an affront to our values as Americans and to the Constitution. Adding prisoners to the current population won’t make us more secure. Transferring additional prisoners to Guantanamo would undermine our moral authority among those nations where the law and human rights matter. It provides a recruiting tool for our enemies. This is a national security issue and it’s appropriate for the Congress to address it in the Defense Authorization Act.


The bill also prohibits the use of national defense funds and military construction funding to build a wall on the southern border, and also restricts the use of military personnel and funding for other immigration-related purposes. In response to reported amendments to reinstate this funding and authority, Mike Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First, said:

Simply put: the situation at our southern border is not a military problem. There is absolutely no justification to deploy the military to build walls or engage in any immigration-related operations. By diverting funding and troops to the southern border, President Trump is not only misallocating military resources and compromising readiness, he’s making a mockery of our values. This is a humanitarian crisis created in large part by the severe policies of this administration, not an invasion.

Our staff and partners who have been to the border have seen with their own eyes refugees—women and children and families—who are fleeing violence and persecution. They are people simply seeking protection under the law, but are cruelly being treated as criminals by this administration. Congress must step up and stop the militarization of our border.

The House version of the defense authorization bill is a good step in the right direction, but we won’t stop pushing until the military is completely removed from immigration operations and refocused on the real threats our country is facing.


Published on June 12, 2019


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