Obama Administration Transfers 15 Guantanamo Detainees

Washington, D.C.Human Rights First today praised the transfer of 15 Guantanamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates, and encourages the Obama Administration to keep up the pace of transfers if the facility is to close by the end of President Obama’s term in office. The organization notes that this is the largest transfer of detainees since President Obama took office.

“As long as Guantanamo remains open it will continue to significantly hinder our nation’s national security,” said retired General Michael Lehnert, the first commanding officer of Guantanamo Bay. “We can only win the fight against terrorism and religious extremism if we adhere to our American values. Guantanamo flies in the face of those ideals we hold dear, and will continue to impede our efforts to keep Americans safe so long as it remains in operation.”

The 15 transfers come as Congress prepares to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill includes language that 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. Both the Senate and House 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 country-specific transfer bans, with the Senate version expanding the number of prohibited locations. Both bills include cumbersome overseas transfer restrictions that make it more difficult, but not impossible, for the administration to transfer detainees.

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 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 detainees 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.

“While today’s transfers are an encouraging sign of progress, the Obama Administration must continue to signal to policymakers that closing Guantanamo remains a priority for his administration,” noted Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “President Obama has staked his legacy on closing Guantanamo, and if he doesn’t move quickly, he’ll be leaving the problem to his predecessor at a cost to American ideals and national security.”


Published on August 15, 2016


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