New Bill to Bar Gitmo Transfers is Misguided

Today Human Rights First joined 16 other human rights and legal organizations in calling for lawmakers to oppose a new bill proposed by Representative Jackie Walorski, which would bar all transfers out of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The bill would stop transfers completely for two years, stalling efforts to close the prison. National security leaders have said that the prison damages U.S. national security and called for closure.

Fifty-six of the current 122 detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer by all relevant government agencies (including the FBI, Defense Department, and State Department). All 56 have been in prison for more than 10 years, and many have been cleared by both the Bush and Obama administrations. If this bill passes, they would all be stranded in prison without charge or trial for even more time.

The rest are either awaiting trial or eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) evaluation. The PRB, made up of members of relevant government agencies, evaluates whether the detainee is a continued threat to the United States or should be transferred. The process has been working (albeit too slowly). Walorski’s bill ignores this progress. It traps in Guantanamo both the already-cleared detainees as well as any who may be cleared by the PRB in the next two years.

Walorski’s bill relies on threat assessments done by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which were completed with unreliable, incomplete information and haven’t been updated for at least six years. Even the prison camp commander in 2008, Rear Admiral Dave Thomas, warned that the information from the JTF-GTMO evaluations was unreliable and “should be adequately verified through other sources before being utilized.”

As the letter to lawmakers notes, the Walorski bill’s purpose of keeping Guantanamo open also comes with a heavy price tag. Guantanamo is the most expensive prison in the world, costing taxpayers more than $5 billion since opening, and $400 million for 2014—more than $4 million per detainee per year. With an aging detainee population and crumbling prison infrastructure, these costs will only rise. Forcing a transfer ban for two years will add to these costs.

Barring transfers out of Guantanamo isn’t the way to make the country safer. The prison is a waste of resources and damaging to national security. Congress should be working to shutter the prison, not keep it open.

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Published on April 16, 2015

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