Gen. Lehnert Urges Congress to Reject Legislation Prohibiting Guantanamo Transfers
Washington, D.C.—In a letter sent today to members of Congress, Major General Michael R. Lehnert, first commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay, urged legislators to reject a bill this week that would shut down all transfers from the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“By second-guessing the decisions of career national security professionals and keeping Guantanamo open, the bill would undermine U.S. national security at a time when it is critical to do everything in our power to effectively counter international terrorism,” wrote General Lehnert. “I urge you to vote against this bill.”
The legislation being debated today would prohibit all federal agencies from using funds to transfer or release detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until January 1, 2017, or the date the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 is enacted, whichever comes first. It would make it nearly impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that national security leaders from across the political spectrum have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering this facility a top priority.
Matt Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, added, “The review process for Guantanamo detainees prior to transfer is thorough and rigorous, and involves career professionals and senior officials from several agencies. Detainee transfer decisions are vetted by Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and State Department, and measures can be put in place to mitigate risks associated with the transfer. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, over 85% of detainees transferred under the Obama Administration are not suspected of being involved in terrorist or insurgent activities. While it is impossible to guarantee that no transferred detainees will become involved with terrorism, the government should have the authority to transfer those detainees who are properly vetted and cleared for transfer.”
Earlier this year, the Pentagon released the administration’s plan for closing Guantanamo, which includes the 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 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 unlikely to exceed 60— would be relocated to one of 13 stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This would result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 61 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, about $7 million per detainee. Twenty have been unanimously cleared for transfer by six national security and intelligence agencies.
Thirty-six 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.
“Our enemies use Guantanamo to bolster their propaganda and our allies refuse to cooperate with us on counterterrorism matters if the result will aid ongoing detention operations at Guantanamo,” wrote General Lehnert. in today’s letter “Closing Guantanamo will go a long way to restoring U.S. leadership on human rights and in the global fight against terrorism.”