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July 22, 2015

Defense Department Delaying Guantanamo Transfers

It was revealed yesterday in The New York Times that since taking office in February, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has not approved the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees, even those cleared for release multiple times by multiple administrations. President Obama has repeatedly promised to close the prison. This intransigence on the part of his Defense Department may jeopardize his ability to do so.

The 52 detainees cleared for transfer—nearly half the prison’s population—have all been there for more than 12 years. Many have been deemed safe for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations and cleared by all relevant agencies, including the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, State Department and even the Defense Department itself. If Carter believes these men need to be kept in prison even longer without charge or trial, costing taxpayers more than $3.4 million per year each, he should tell the American people why.

For a detainee to be transferred, he needs to be cleared by the aforementioned government agencies, and then by the Secretary of Defense, who must send a 30-day notice to Congress. Carter’s predecessor Chuck Hagel was reportedly slowing the transfer process, which may have been part of the reason for his resignation.

The consensus among national security experts is that the prison needs to be closed. It’s an extravagant waste of money and resources, an impediment to counterterrorism cooperation with allies and diplomatic efforts around the world, a stain on America’s reputation, and a propaganda boon for enemies. Even many of those who were involved in the prison’s beginnings now say it needs to be closed. President Bush wanted the prison closed, and many in his administration agreed. President Obama campaigned on the issue and on his second day in office signed an executive order to close the prison.

To make this happen, the administration has to transfer those 52 detainees cleared for release as soon as possible. Lee Wolosky, a new State Department envoy in charge of securing deals with other countries to accept detainees, is reportedly working diligently to make that happen. But if Secretary Carter continues to resist approving transfers that his own Defense Department has already verified as safe, the cleared detainees will stay stuck at Guantanamo, and President Obama will have failed to fulfill one of his first and most prominent promises—to close the damaging detention facility.