U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Friday visited Guantanamo Bay prison where the United States has been holding terrorism suspects.
Justice Department officials said Sessions traveled to the military prison in Cuba with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to understand the operations at the facility.
President Donald Trump said during the presidential campaign that he would like to see the detention facility stay open but has not announced any policy on the prison since taking office.
Sessions has previously voiced support for continuing to use Guantanamo Bay to hold detainees as opposed to holding them in the United States and having the Justice Department try the suspects.
Asked in March by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt whether the prison should remain available for new detainees, Sessions called the facility “a perfectly acceptable” place.
Former President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to close the prison during his eight years in office. He sent no new detainees to the facility during his administration and reduced the number of prisoners to 41.
Obama’s Justice Department argued that U.S. civilian courts were the best place to try terrorism suspects and cited convictions in New York and other cities as proof. Sessions and other Republicans have argued that the legal protections offered in civilian courts, including the right to remain silent, should not be granted to terrorists.
“Keeping this country safe from terrorists is the highest priority of the Trump administration,” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement Friday.
“Recent attacks in Europe and elsewhere confirm that the threat to our nation is immediate and real, and it remains essential that we use every lawful tool available to prevent as many attacks as possible.”
Opened in 2002
The prison at the Guantanamo Bay military base opened in 2002 to hold and interrogate terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.
At the height of its operations, the prison held 780 people, mostly inmates with alleged ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Since then, hundreds have been transferred back to their home countries or to other nations that agreed to accept them.
The remaining 41 prisoners are viewed as too dangerous to free. Several alleged co-conspirators of the Sept. 11 attacks, including accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are awaiting trial.