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August 10, 2015

Secretary of Defense Blocking Transfers of Cleared Guantanamo Detainees

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has been preventing the transfer of any Guantanamo detainee, even those cleared in a rigorous interagency review process by his own Defense Department, according to a Daily Beast article published this week.

The Pentagon stalemate was first reported in July, but the matter has taken on more urgency since then. Lee Wolosky, the new State Department envoy in charge of closing Guantanamo, has secured deals with a dozen countries to accept nearly half of the 52 cleared Guantanamo detainees. All of those 52 cleared detainees have been imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than 12 years, and many were approved to be transferred by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

When in office, President Bush released over 500 Guantanamo detainees. The Obama Administration overhauled the detainee review process, ensuring cooperation from all relevant agencies and departments (including the Defense Department, State Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) and requiring that any decision to release a detainee be unanimous among those reviewing each detainee’s case. The secretary of defense’s final approval is required to transfer any detainee out of Guantanamo Bay.

Moreover, the Periodic Review Board, a panel made up of representatives of the same agencies, is now reviewing detainees using the same rigorous criteria. These processes are anything but a rubber stamp.

Since instituting the new review standards, the rate at which detainees take up arms after release has plummeted, dropping from 33 percent to 6 percent (20.7 percent confirmed and 12.8 percent suspected under the Bush Administration, compared to 5.2 percent confirmed and 0.9 percent suspected under the Obama Administration).

President Obama has made closing Guantanamo more of a priority in recent months, and national security leaders, including those involved with opening the prison, have said for years that it needs to be shuttered. The prison is an expensive stain on America’s image around the world, complicating counterterrorism cooperation and diplomatic efforts.

With deals in place to release many of those detainees who have been stuck in the prison for over a decade without charge or trial, the Obama Administration needs to make sure that the prison’s closure is a top priority. It makes no sense for Secretary Carter to now obstruct the release of those detainees who have already been carefully screened cleared for transfer. The White House should make sure that’s not happening.