Obama Gitmo plan moves prison to US, leaves prisoners in limbo – ACLU

The outside of the "Camp Five" detention facility is seen at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay © Mandel Ngan
President Barack Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison complex has come under fire from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as being insufficient. A new report also claims the Pentagon is slow-walking the transfer of detainees.

The fact that Guantanamo remains open in Cuba has been a black spot on Obama’s record for years, especially considering he pledged to shut down the facility during his first presidential campaign. Nearly seven years later, 116 detainees still remain imprisoned, according to data from the New York Times and NPR, despite the fact that 52 have already been categorized as minimal risks and cleared for transfer.

Recently, reports have stated that the White House is again considering how to close the prison. The administration wants to transfer the 52 cleared detainees to other countries and bring the remaining prisoners onto US soil. But while such a plan, if it earns the approval of Congress, would physically lead to the end of the prison, critics say it is nevertheless inadequate and even illegal.

According to the ACLU, the issues at the heart of the debate over Guantanamo are much greater than the question of what to do with the prison.

Transferring detainees to US prisons won’t address the fact that the White House still intends to keep them behind bars indefinitely, Chris Anders, the senior legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in an online post. Some inmates have been held for more than a decade without ever being charged for a crime. However, if followed through on, Obama’s plan would simply move Guantanamo onto American soil, rather than shut it down.

“Guantánamo has been about our government violating the rule of law and ducking American values,” Anders said.

“From torture and abuse during the Bush administration to indefinite detention and defective military commissions extending through the Bush and Obama administrations, Guantánamo has been a place where our government behaves like a human rights pariah instead of a human rights beacon.”

“The only meaningful solution is to close Guantánamo by ending indefinite detention without charge or trial, transferring the detainees who have been cleared for transfer, and trying detainees for whom there is evidence of wrongdoing in our federal criminal courts in the US, which regularly try terrorism suspects, including high-profile ones,” Anders wrote.

These sentiments were echoed earlier in the week by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who helped publish Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Greenwald said Obama “never sought to close Guantánamo in any meaningful sense but rather wanted to relocate it to a less symbolically upsetting location, with its defining injustice fully intact and, worse, institutionalized domestically.”

He criticized the plan for insisting “on the right to continue to indefinitely imprison detainees, most of whom have already been kept in a cage for more than a decade with no charges or trial.”

Whether the plan will actually move forward is another question entirely. According to a new report by the Guardian, the Pentagon is blocking the transfer of three detainees out of Guantanamo. Citing unnamed sources, the outlet said that the US has already finalized a deal that would send one detainee, a UK resident named Shaker Aamer, back to Britan, but the Defense Department has declined to sign off on the transfer and Secretary Ashton Carter doesn’t seem ready to budge.

The Defense Department is the only federal agency with input that refuses to give its consent to the deal, the Guardian reported. Aamer’s transfer has reportedly been greenlighted by the Justice Department, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Consdering Aamer and others have already been cleared for transfer, the way forward regarding the remaining detainees is much less clear. A 2010 government review suggested that 32 prisoners should be held until the completion of the “war on terrorism,” a conflict with no discernible end date. Many lawmakers have also opposed transferring detainees to other countries, as well as bringing them into prisons on US soil.

A recent Washington Post report stated that, even if the Obama administration were able to bring detainees to US facilities, it can’t decide where to send them. One site that was being considered in Illinois was ultimately ruled out because the Justice Department had promised not to put Guantanamo detainees there when it purchased the prison a few years ago.

Another reported possibility is the Consolidated Naval Brig in South Carolina. Terror suspects have been kept there before, the Post stated, but that plan would also face opposition from many members of Congress.

For civil liberties advocates such as the ACLU, where to put the detainees next is beside the point, as they continue to insist that prisoners either be charged and tried or let go.

“If a prosecutor can’t put together a case against someone who has been sitting in prison for as long as 13 years,” Anders wrote, “there is no reason that person should continue to sit in prison, whether in Guantánamo or someplace else.”