Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First condemned a draft executive order released today by The New York Times that would continue to hold individuals at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a move that undermines American values and endangers the United States’ national security. The executive order does not, however, order a review that could lead to a restart of the CIA rendition, detention and interrogation program. Such a review was included in an earlier draft of the order, and was met with sharp condemnation from Democratic and Republican members of Congress, national security experts, and military and intelligence professionals, who urged President Trump to reconsider his views on torture.
“This version of the executive order is an important signal that the administration has heard the call of national security experts, retired military leaders, interrogators, intelligence professionals, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, who agree that torture is illegal, immoral, and counterproductive,” said General Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the Marine Corps. “The use of torture is a grave threat to our national security. It puts our troops in danger, makes cooperation with allies more difficult, and is a propaganda boon for extremists intent on harming the United States.”
Last month 176 of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals sent a letter to President Trump urging him to reject the use of torture. The letter, which includes 33 four-star generals and admirals, highlights the United States’ historic bipartisan opposition to torture and calls on President Trump to continue this legacy. In 2015, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Feinstein (D-CA) sponsored landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation passed the Senate with the support of a broad bipartisan majority, which included the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence, armed services, homeland security, foreign relations, and judiciary committees.
The draft executive order directs the secretary of defense to continue to use the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to hold “enemy combatants,” including sending future captures to Guantanamo who are members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, their associated forces, and “individuals and networks associated with the Islamic State.” It rescinds President Obama’s 2009 executive order to close Guantanamo within one year. It also explicitly provides that detainees can still be transferred out of Guantanamo if this is ordered by a court and that the secretary of defense can still detain enemy combatants in other facilities.
“Guantanamo stands as a symbol of lawlessness and abuse. Our enemies point to Guantanamo to bolster their propaganda and our allies continue to view it as an impediment to otherwise essential cooperation on counterterrorism matters,” said Major General Michael R. Lehnert, the first commanding officer of Guantanamo Bay. “Federal courts have a long record of capably handling international terrorism cases, which stands in stark contrast to the inconsistent and ineffective performance of military commissions and indefinite detention at Guantanamo.”
National security leaders and former government officials—including president George W. Bush, and other officials who helped set up the detention center—have supported closing Guantanamo because they’ve determined that it’s operation is contrary to the national interest. Human Rights First urges President Trump to continue efforts to close the facility.
There are 41 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, more than $10 million per detainee. Five detainees have been unanimously cleared for transfer by six national security and intelligence agencies, but it is unclear whether the Trump administration intends to transfer them. Human Rights First urges the Trump Administration to continue the Periodic Review Boards to evaluate whether detainees can and should be transferred.
“Detainees cleared for transfer by national security agencies and departments must be transferred,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “Without meaningful reviews that can lead to transfers of cleared detainees, Guantanamo is at real risk of becoming a lobster trap kind of situation where detainees are sent there and never released. That’s not what the United States stands for.”