No Need to Build Another Guantanamo in the U.S.

In a post this week responding to Jessica Schulberg’s piece about the financial costs of Guantanamo, Ben Wittes at Lawfare wrote that bringing Gitmo detainees into the United States “would require the construction of a Guantanamo-like facility in which to hold people.” I’m not so sure this is true, especially after re-reading the 2012 Government Accountability Office report “Guantanamo Bay Detainees: Facilities and Factors for Consideration If Detainees Were Brought to the United States.”

This report examined if it would be possible to bring detainees into Department of Defense (DOD) or Department of Justice (DOJ) correctional facilities, along with the practical issues of either option. While it doesn’t paint either possibility as perfect, the concerns the report raises are not insurmountable and don’t necessitate building another Gitmo within the United States.

For both DOD and DOJ, current prisoners would have to be moved to make room for the Guantanamo detainees owing to need for additional security levels. But there is room (especially in DOD facilities), and reshuffling is possible.

For DOD, there are some obvious security concerns: current inmates convicted by courts martial with serious health concerns are taken off-site to a clinic or hospital, which may pose some difficulty with Gitmo detainees. Also, current inmates have frequent visits from guests, which would complicate security at the prisons (compared to the isolation and visitor control available at Guantanamo). DOD facilities may also need to be outfitted with new infrastructure to accommodate intelligence operations. But these problems can be solved.

For DOJ/(Bureau of Prisons) BOP facilities, which currently house a large number of inmates convicted of terrorism-related crimes, the biggest problem seems to be finding room for Guantanamo detainees. The report cites overcrowding as a serious concern, but BOP says that with adequate resources, they would be able to manage.

Currently the BOP and U.S. Marshall Service are only authorized to take custody of people convicted under U.S. law, but those regulations could be changed. Moreover, the BOP and Marshall Service are confident they could do the job, as the report says:  “…although no active consideration has been given to the unique issues that would arise in connection with transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, on the basis of their experience they could safely and securely house and transport the detainees if requested to do so and if given the necessary resources, planning lead time, and authorities.”

I’m sure it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but transferring Guantanamo detainees to either DOD or DOJ correctional facilities doesn’t seem impossible, and certainly wouldn’t necessitate building another Gitmo within the United States.

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Published on September 26, 2014

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