First Commanding General of Guantanamo Urges Congress to Reject New Transfer Restrictions

Washington, D.C.—Major Gen. Michael Lehnert, the first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, today urged Members of Congress to reject an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would establish more onerous restrictions on transferring detainees from Guantanamo than have ever been passed into law. The call came in a letter that also pressed representatives to support an amendment that would establish a framework for closing the detention facility.

“As has been the case in previous years, the issue of Guantanamo will be part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which will be debated this week,” wrote Gen. Lehnert. “Guantanamo does not serve America’s interests. As long as it remains open, it will undermine America’s security and status as a land where human rights and the rule of law matter.”

An amendment to the NDAA proposed by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN2) would effectively put a two year ban on the transfer of 102 of the 122 detainees held at Guantanamo.  This includes many of those who have been unanimously cleared for transfer by both the Bush and Obama Administrations, as well as the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The amendment also prevents the Secretary of Defense from using a national security waiver to transfer any detainee to a “combat zone”—a term used to provide tax exemptions to service members but which has no connection to where Guantanamo detainees can be safely transferred. This would prohibit transfers to viable countries such as Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where there have not been active hostilities for more than a decade and which have successfully resettled Guantanamo detainees.

By contrast, an amendment introduced by Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA9) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY10) would provide a common sense framework to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by the end of 2017. It would require President Obama to submit a plan to close Guantanamo within 60 days after the NDAA is enacted that includes details on where detainees will be transferred, how terrorism suspects captured overseas will be detained and treated, and a plan by cabinet officials for the disposition of each Guantanamo detainee. The Smith-Nadler Amendment also permits detainees to be transferred to the United States and be detained in U.S. facilities but prohibits their release into the United States.

“This is not a partisan issue. It is an American issue,” wrote Gen. Lehnert. “Closing Guantanamo is in our national security interest. It is also about reestablishing who we are as a nation.”

For more information, see Human Rights First’s information on this year’s House NDAA and its Unprecedented Congressional Restrictions on Gitmo Transfers.


Published on May 14, 2015


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