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US Military Surveying Prisons to Potentially Hold Guantanamo Detainees

The Department of Defense has started surveying a military installation in Leavenworth, Kansas, to potentially hold detainees currently at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Leavenworth facility and another military installation in Charleston, South Carolina are the two approved for surveying at the direction of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, according to a defense spokesman. Military personnel started surveying in Leavenworth on Thursday, while surveyors will start in Charleston “in the next week or so,” the spokesman told VOA.

The U.S. facility will need to hold “about 50 of the detainees,” according to a U.S. defense official. There are currently 116 prisoners at the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Many of the others are eligible for transfer to other countries.

The defense spokesman said the surveys are part of the “ongoing effort to identify locations within the United States that can possibly facilitate military commissions and can possibly hold detainees currently at GTMO.”

He said military personnel will consider surveying a variety of “military and civilian sites” to determine whether they can hold the law of war detainees “in a humane and secure manner.”

“Only those locations that can hold detainees at a maximum security level will be considered,” the spokesman said.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said earlier this week that the Pentagon hoped to hand Congress a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility some time after the legislative branch’s August recess.

Law change

However, under current U.S. laws, the military and the Department of Justice are not allowed to send the detainees anywhere in the United States.

“Congress has slammed the door on virtually any means to move individuals out of Guantanamo to the United States,” said Gary Solis, an adjunct professor of law at George Washington University.

Congress must vote to change the law before any of the detainees could be moved to Kansas, South Carolina or another state.

President Barack Obama has called for the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay since the beginning of his presidency.

When asked earlier this week about efforts to close the facility, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the administration remains dedicated to the ultimate closure of Guantanamo and is “taking all possible steps to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo.”

Established by the former George W. Bush administration after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Guantanamo Bay once held nearly 800 enemy combatants captured in the war on terrorism.

Republican backers of Guantanamo Bay say it is an indispensable tool for holding and interrogating America’s enemies, and they note that some detainees released from the camp have again taken up arms against the United States.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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