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February 23, 2016

Pentagon's Plan is an Important Step Toward Closing Guantanamo

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First said that today’s release of the Pentagon's plan to close Guantanamo represents a positive step forward in efforts to shutter the facility before the end of the president’s term in office. The plan submitted to Congress details steps the administration will take to transfer all remaining detainees out of the prison. 

“Guantanamo has been a stain on our nation for far too long.” said Major General Michael R. Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), the first commanding general of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. "President Obama should be commended for showing the leadership necessary to shutter the facility once and for all. This is an issue that needs bipartisan leadership – it is not a political issue. This is about reestablishing who we say we are as a nation."

The administration’s plan includes the accelerated transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared for transfer by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies.  It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Period Review Board (PRB) hearings, of those remaining detainees who are not facing trial to determine if they can be cleared for transfer.  The remaining detainees who will not be transferred in the near term—a number not to exceed 60, according to the plan—will be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities.  This will result in annual operating savings of up to $180 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”

Addressing concerns raised about moving detainees into the United States, James Gondles, the Executive Director of the American Correctional Association notes, “Our prison system in the United States is more than capable of safely and securely holding Guantanamo detainees. Hundreds of the world’s most dangerous criminals—including numerous al Qaeda members—have been held in the United States without incident.”

Human Rights First urges Congress to work with President Obama to create a path forward to close Guantanamo by removing the current transfer restrictions. At the same time, President Obama can and should take steps to transfer those Guantanamo detainees who have already been cleared for transfer in a rigorous interagency process.

“President Obama has shown his willingness to work with Congress to close Guantanamo,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “Now Congress should step up and help get the job done by removing restrictions for transfers from Guantanamo. Keeping Guantanamo Bay open makes our country less safe by serving as a recruitment tool for terrorists.”

Last month the Obama Administration transferred 16 detainees out of Guantanamo, a move that brought the detention facility’s population below 100 for the first time since it opened in January 2002. Thirty-five of the detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay have already been cleared for transfer by all national security and intelligence agencies of the U.S. government. Those transfers need to accelerate in order for the president to achieve his goal of closing the prison. Forty-two are eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) review.  Human Rights First notes that PRB reviews should have been completed for every eligible detainee over 3 years ago.

"Guantanamo and the military commissions convened to try those currently accused of carrying out the attacks that led to the deaths of our family members do not do justice to the enormity of the 9/11 crimes. America's federal courts are the proper and fitting place in which to try the men who have been accused of these crimes. September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows wants Guantanamo closed. This can only be accomplished if the military commissions are closed and the trials for the crimes of 9/11 are moved into federal courts,” said members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

In a letter today  General Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the Marine Corps called on members of Congress to "give serious consideration to the recently submitted Department of Defense [DOD] plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” He continued, "Closing Guantanamo is in our national security interest, and with the submission of the DOD plan, there is a unique opportunity for Congress to lift the remaining restrictions on transferring detainees so that Guantanamo can be closed." Thirty-two of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals had previously urged President Obama to submit a plan to Congress detailing actions the administration will take to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Signatories to the letter are members of a larger group of retired military leaders who have long advocated for closing Guantanamo. Many of them stood behind President Obama on his second day in office in 2009 as he signed the executive order to close Guantanamo within one year.

For more information or to speak with Gen. Lehnert, Gen. Krulak, Gondles, members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, or Wala, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319