News / USA

Experts Weigh In on Challenges of Closing Guantanamo Prison

Activists wearing orange jumpsuits mark the 100th day of prisoners' hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay during a protest in front of the White House in Washington May 17, 2013.
Activists wearing orange jumpsuits mark the 100th day of prisoners' hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay during a protest in front of the White House in Washington May 17, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Cecily Hilleary
— The Obama administration is asking Congress for more than $450 million to maintain and upgrade the Guantanamo Bay terrorist prison even as the president is searching for ways to close the 11-year-old facility on a U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
 
Barack Obama first promised to shut down the Guantanamo detention center when he was running for the presidency in 2008. He and other administration officials have blamed members of Congress for preventing him from carrying through with the closure.
 
The Guantanamo detention facility was set up by the then-President George W. Bush in 2002 to house terrorist suspects following the al-Qaida terror attacks that killed about 3,000 people in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
 
Since its opening, about 780 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban suspects have been held at Guantanamo. More than 600 of them have been released or transferred to other countries over the years, many without ever having been formally charged with crimes. The facility currently houses 166 terror suspects.
 
“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” President Obama declared again last month. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

The president is expected to talk about Guantanamo’s future again on Thursday during a speech on U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
 
Last week, a former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo delivered a petition to the White House containing more than 370,000 signatures and demanding that the Cuba facility be closed down immediately. The former prosecutor, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, said the prison was a blot on America record.


Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Pentagon's Office of Military CommissionsCol. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions
x
Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions
Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions
“Of the 166 [prisoners] that are still there, there are 86 that have been cleared for transfer, which means that a joint task force made up of the CIA, Department of Justice, FBI and Department of Defense unanimously agreed that these 86 men didn’t commit a crime, we don’t intend to charge them, they don’t pose an imminent threat and we don’t want to keep them,” Davis said in an interview.  “Yet still they sit there, year after year after year.”
 
Adding to the pressures on Mr. Obama is a hunger strike by many Guantanamo prisoners that has been going on for more than three months. Many of them are being forced fed to keep them alive.
 
So why hasn’t the president moved to close down the facility over the past four-and-a-half years? Some of his harshest critics have accused him of being less than totally honest on the issue. His defenders have blamed Republicans in Congress, or noted that closing Guantanamo is easier said than done.
 
Davis, who served as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo from 2005 to 2007, noted that 56 of the current detainees are from Yemen and were slated to be returned home years ago. He said the transfer was blocked after the so-called “underwear bomber” tried to blow up a plane over Detroit, Michigan on Christmas Day, 2009.
 
“When it turned out that the plot for the underwear bombing was hatched in Yemen, so we shut off the pipeline back,” said Davis, now a professor at Howard University law school in Washington D.C.
 
Closing Guantanamo

Davis says some members of Congress have made closing Guantanamo “difficult,” but not impossible. He says the Yemenis should be sent home immediately and the remaining prisoners divided between those who should be prosecuted before the military commission or in federal courts and those who should be sent home. 
 
“The National Defense Authorization Act has a provision where the Secretary of Defense has the authority to certify, on a case-by-case basis, detainees, basically vouching that they are not a threat to the U.S. and they’re not going to do any harm and it’s safe to send them home,” he said. 
 
But Davis says the White House has not done this because it fears a released prisoner might take up arms against the U.S. later. 
 
“If you sent the 86 cleared detainees home, somebody in that group is going to do something stupid at some point in the future, and the president hasn’t been willing to have his name on that happening,” he said.
 
A relative of a Yemeni inmate at Guantanamo Bay holds up his poster during a protest by relatives of detainees to demand their release, outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa April 1, 2013.A relative of a Yemeni inmate at Guantanamo Bay holds up his poster during a protest by relatives of detainees to demand their release, outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa April 1, 2013.
x
A relative of a Yemeni inmate at Guantanamo Bay holds up his poster during a protest by relatives of detainees to demand their release, outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa April 1, 2013.
A relative of a Yemeni inmate at Guantanamo Bay holds up his poster during a protest by relatives of detainees to demand their release, outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa April 1, 2013.
The New America Foundation recently released a study of former Guantanamo detainees to determine how many have taken up arms since their release.  The study found that about 8.5% returned to “the battlefield.”
 
Davis says that’s not enough to keep them imprisoned forever without charges.
“The alternative is to me fundamentally un-American, and that’s to say we’re willing to keep 166 people locked up for the rest of their lives on the chance that eight and a half percent of them would do something stupid,” Davis said.
 
Davis points out that it costs $800,000 to $900,000 per man, per year, to keep detainees at Guantanamo, while housing them in U.S. supermax [“super maximum security”] prisons would cost about $32,000 per man, per year.
 
Guantanamo alternatives?

Alberto R. GonzalesAlberto R. Gonzales
x
Alberto R. Gonzales
Alberto R. Gonzales
Alberto R. Gonzales, a former U.S. Attorney General in the Bush administration, says there are good reasons that Guantanamo hasn’t been closed. 

“The problem the U.S. has, of course, is that there’s no viable alternative at this moment, and because the need continues to detain captured enemy combatants somewhere, we need to continue to have Guantanamo open.”

And Gonzales opposes transferring detainees to U.S. prisons.

“I think that we have the capability to provide for the safety of these individuals and to provide for the safety of the surrounding communities,” Gonzales said.  “But the truth of the matter is that if you move them to one facility like supermax, the supermax will become the next symbol of American oppression -- because I think the enemy has shown that it will use anything that we do as a recruiting tool.”   

And Gonzales also is against trying the detainees on terrorism charges in the United States.

“Once you bring them into the United States, they very well may have additional constitutional plans against this country, and there’s a possibility these terrorists will put the U.S. on trial in connection with any kind of subsequent criminal proceedings.” 

Moral, legal issues

Gonzales also disagrees with Obama’s claim that Guantanamo hurts U.S. international standing and harms U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
 
“One reason that people might have concern about Guantanamo – or simply a knee-jerk reaction—is because they simply don’t agree with the notion that a country should be able to detain people that it captures indefinitely without charges,” he said.  “Of course that ignores a long-standing tradition, long-standing tenet of international law, that under the laws of war, countries who capture people fighting against them can detain them indefinitely for the duration of hostilities.”
 
He also believes that negative impressions of Guantanamo are based on old perceptions. 
 
“The facilities are as good, if not better than some of the facilities in the United States…,” he said.
 
“President Bush made the calculation—when the war on terror began—that our number one priority would be to prevent another attack, prevent another loss of lives, and that secondary to that would be bringing people to justice,” Gonzales continued. “And he understood that because of some of the measures that we took, which were successful in protecting American lives, would present additional challenges for prosecutors in terms of bringing them to justice at a later date.”

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Randall from: sterling
May 25, 2013 6:35 PM
Let's keep the property, move the prison.


by: Bob G from: Maine
May 23, 2013 10:45 AM
I remember Obama's commitment to close Guantanamo during the 2008 election campaign. He said that within a year he would have it closed. Unfortunately he had no plan for doing so. It was a sure sign of executive incompetence. Unfortunately there have been many other signs of his incompetence since then. He should never have been elected president with his meager executive/managerial experience.


by: John
May 22, 2013 8:47 PM
The obvious solution is just send them home, and pass the word down to just shoot them if they should be caught making an attack. Shifting Guantanamo to the US mainland is very plainly a stupid idea.


by: RScott from: USA
May 22, 2013 7:01 PM
"I think the enemy has shown that it will use anything that we do as a recruiting tool.” And what better recruiting tool than keeping men in prison for years who we have found to have done NOTHING?


by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
May 22, 2013 4:02 PM
Interesting situation "..86 cleared detainees.." who have spent years in contact with serious terrorists. They should have been sent home as soon as their innocence was established. After years in contact with serious terrorists, these 86 will need counselling, re-training, social assessments, some form of help to restart their lives, and some form of compensation for the preventive detention. Each one of these innocent people, should start/be given a retraining program, some trade..?., so that when they return home, they can gainfully earn a living. As far as those the evidence shows a criminal case, use the available processes..... The bad optics relate to the lack of a process, to deal with each individual, according to the evidence.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid