NDAA Provisions Undermine President’s Ability to Close Guantanamo

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of Congress to reject provisions in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make it nearly impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility in at Guantanamo Bay. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) released a summary of the bill’s provisions last night, while the House of Representatives prepares for floor consideration of its version of the NDAA.

“Closing Guantanamo Bay is vital to our national security, yet the provisions included in this bill would ensure that the facility continues operating into the next administration, making Americans less safe,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “National security leaders from across the political spectrum have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering this facility a top priority, as it is used as propaganda by our enemies, undermines American global leadership on human rights, and hinders cooperation among our allies.”

Both the SASC and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) versions of the NDAA would extend unnecessary bans on transferring detainees to the United States until after President Obama leaves office.  The bills also extend cumbersome overseas transfer restrictions that make it more difficult, but not impossible, for the administration to transfer detainees.

The SASC version of the NDAA does, however, include two provisions that are a step in the right direction for closing Guantanamo and bolstering humane treatment of detainees.  One provision allows for detainees at Guantanamo to accept plea deals in a civilian Article III federal court and then be transferred to a foreign country to serve the sentence.  A second provision allows for temporary transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for emergency medical treatment.

“It’s important to allow a civilian court option for Guantanamo detainees, because from a legal and policy perspective the indefinite detention and military commissions options at Guantanamo are a total disaster,” noted Wala. On the medical treatment provision, Wala added, “Allowing detainees to be transferred to the United States for medical treatment is a good first step, but in the interest of justice and national security Congress ought to remove the ban on transfers to the United States entirely.”

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 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 unlikely to exceed 60— would be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This will would 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.

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.

For more information see Human Rights First’s fact sheet on Guantanamo provisions in the House NDAA.


Published on May 13, 2016


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