Senators Remind Obama of His Promise to Close Gitmo

On Monday, Senators Feinstein, Leahy, and Durbin sent a letter to President Barack Obama reminding him of his 2009 executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Senators pointed out that the interagency process has unanimously cleared 57 of the 122 remaining detainees for transfer, yet they continue to languish in detention.

In a separate development, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently said that the U.S. government should compensate these cleared men for their undue imprisonment.

The Senators also reminded the President of the staggering cost of keeping the facility open: nearly $3.3 million per year per detainee. The cost of holding someone in the most expensive supermax prison the United States is a relatively measly $79,000 per year. And Guantanamo’s costs will only increase as the detainees grow older and require more expensive health care.

President Obama only has 20 months left in office to make good on his promise to close Guantanamo. The process is slow. It takes time to negotiate with other countries to host detainees. If and when that happens, Obama is then required to give Congress 30 days’ notice of pending transfers.

Just transferring the 57 cleared detainees over the next 20 months would be a daunting task. Closing the prison will take even more than that. A number of detainees have not been charged with any crime and need to be evaluated by the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) to determine if they are eligible for transfer. The Senators’ letter notes that at the current rate of the PRBs, eligible detainees will not be reviewed until the end of the decade. Obama needs to both accelerate the pace of the PRBs and transfer all cleared detainees.

President Obama may face increased hurdles in the form of legislative proposals geared to prevent Guantanamo from ever closing. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) offered a bill in January that would stop all detainee transfers based on outdated, unreliable assessments. And just last week, the House Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 with a clause that states detainees may not be transferred to any area identified by the IRS as a “combat zone,” which includes a number of U.S. allies.

If any of these bills were signed into law, President Obama would no longer be able to transfer any detainees, even those cleared by six different government agencies. Keeping Guantanamo open is an affront to our national security, finances, and moral fiber. The Senators are right to remind President Obama of his promise to close the prison. We join them in urging him to use his authority to put an end to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

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Published on May 6, 2015

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