Will Joe Biden carry out his Democratic predecessor’s pledge to close the 20-year-old detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO)?
“The Biden administration is well-positioned to take concrete, tangible steps toward finally cleaning up Guantanamo’s stain on America’s reputation and restoring America’s values-based global leadership in the near term,” writes Benjamin R. Farley, a trial attorney and law-of-war counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, Military Commissions Defense Organization, in an article posted in Just Security.
“As President George W. Bush recognized nearly 15 years ago, GTMO is ‘a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.’ ”
But whether President-elect Biden takes those steps remains an open question, as he navigates what is likely to be a still-polarized political environment.
Closing Guantanamo would plug the financial drain on U.S.taxpyayers of maintaining 40 alleged terrorists held as prisoners of war, at a cost of $13 million per detainee per year, said the article posted in Just Security, based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law.
Although President Barack Obama made closing Guantanamo a priority during his first campaign for election, it was still operating long after he left office.
Nevertheless, Farley noted that conditions there had dramatically improved.
“By the end of his administration, Obama had transferred 196 men from GTMO while improving the security of those transfers by a factor of five over the Bush administration’s efforts,” he wrote.
Once the Obama administration made clear that closing the detention center meant moving some of the prisoners — including former C.I.A. prisoners, such as five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks — to detention facilities in the United States, critics said the proposed relocation of the prisoners was a potential national security threat.
In 2016, while running for president, Donald Trump vowed in a media interview to keep the wartime prison open and “load it up with some bad dudes.”
During the Trump administration, it was not “loaded up.” Nor were further moves made to close it.
During this year’s presidential campaign, in response to a question, his campaign said in a statement that Mr. Biden “continues to support closing the detention center,” according to The New York Times.
The statement said the prison “undermines American national security by fueling terrorist recruitment and is at odds with our values as a country.”
The New York Times said, “But Mr. Biden rarely, if ever, brings up the topic, evidence of how politically toxic it remains after intense Republican efforts to cast Mr. Obama’s initiative as endangering Americans by transferring terrorists to U.S. soil or sending them without adequate safeguards to other countries.”
The Just Security article said that Biden’s administration can safely complete the task begun by Obama “with only moderate political, policy, and fiscal investment.”
“To finish the remaining 25 percent of the project, however, Biden will likely need the historically elusive support of Congress.”
According to Just Security, there are currently nine, and possibly ten, men approved or likely to be approved for transfer to criminal courts.
Twelve other men now at Guantanamo fall under military court proceedings and could be taken in by facilities connected to those courts. Seven of these detainees are currently undergoing pre-trial proceedings before three separate GTMO military commissions: the 9/11 trial, the U.S.S. Cole trial, and the Hadi al-Iraqi (or Nashwan al-Tamir) trial.
There are 19 men who have been detained for between 12 years and nearly 19 years and “are neither approved for transfer nor face a suggestion of prosecution before a military commission,” said Just Security.
Approximately 15 of them are described as “low value” by the U.S. government, suggesting that detention at cost of $13 million per year some 15 years or more since capture “is impractical at best.”
“Although the infrastructure the Obama administration built to responsibly close GTMO has been dismantled in part and otherwise left to gather dust, enough of it remains that the GTMO closure process can be restarted quickly,” according to Just Security.
The full paper, “A Path for Renewing Guantanamo Closure,” can be read here.