ISSN 2330-717X

Obama Discusses Plan To Close Guantanamo Facility

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US President Barack Obama announced his full support for the Defense Department’s plan to close the detention facility at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the decision “reflects the lessons we’ve learned since 9/11.”

The report notes, that “as the President has said, it is time to bring this chapter of American history to a close. We must close the detention facility at Guantanamo and with it bring an end to the detention of detainees who can be safely, humanely, and responsibly transferred overseas, deprive terrorists of a propaganda tool, reduce costs, and permit more of our brave men and women in uniform serving at Guantanamo Bay to return to meeting the challenges of the 21st century around the globe.”

Following is US Defense Department’s Plan for Closing the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.

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Plan for Closing the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility

As the President has made clear, closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is a national security imperative. Its continued operation weakens our national security by furthering the recruiting propaganda of violent extremists, hindering relations with key allies and partners, and draining Department of Defense resources.

Of the nearly 800 detainees at one time held at Guantanamo Bay, more than 85 percent have been transferred, including more than 500 detainees transferred by the prior Administration and 147 detainees transferred by this Administration. As of February 23, 2016, 91 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay. To close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the U.S. Government is pursuing three lines of effort simultaneously: (1) identifying transfer opportunities for detainees designated for transfer; (2) continuing to review the threat posed by those detainees who are not currently eligible for transfer and who are not currently facing military commission charges; and (3) continuing with ongoing military commissions prosecutions and, for those detainees who remain designated for continued law of war detention, identifying individualized dispositions where available, including military commission prosecution, transfer to third countries, foreign prosecutions or, should Congress lift the ban on transfers to the United States, transfer to the United States for prosecution in Article III courts and to serve sentences.

Notwithstanding these efforts, the Administration expects there to remain a limited number of detainees who will not be designated for transfer, subject to ongoing military commission prosecutions, serving any adjudged sentences, or candidates for prosecution in Article III courts, and who cannot safely be transferred to third countries in the near term. For these detainees, the Administration intends to work with the Congress to relocate them from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to an appropriate site in the continental United States while continuing to identify other appropriate and lawful dispositions.

(1) Securely Transferring Detainees Designated for Transfer by the President’s National Security Team

Of the 91 detainees who remain at Guantanamo, 35 have been determined to be eligible for transfer by relevant national security departments and agencies (Departments of Defense, State, Justice, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) through the interagency 2009 Executive Order 13492 Task Force or the ongoing Periodic Review Board process. A decision to designate a detainee for transfer reflects the best judgment of U.S. Government experts, including counterterrorism, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals, that, to the extent a detainee poses a continuing threat to the United States, the threat could be sufficiently mitigated – and the national interest would be served – if the detainee were transferred to another country under appropriate security measures. Consistent with current law, the Department of Defense transfers detainees following certification by the Secretary of Defense, pursuant to section 1034 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, that actions were taken or are planned to be taken that will substantially mitigate the risk of these individuals engaging or reengaging in any terrorist or other hostile activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests, and that the transfer is in the national security interests of the United States. In making each certification, the Secretary of Defense consults with the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of National Intelligence. The NDAA prohibits the use of Department of Defense funds to transfer a detainee from Guantanamo Bay unless the Secretary submits the required certification not later than 30 days before the transfer of the detainee.

The United States obtains two types of assurances from a receiving country: security assurances (i.e., measures to sufficiently mitigate the threat posed by the detainee) and humane treatment assurances (i.e., measures to ensure that the transfer comports with the U.S. Government’s humane treatment policy). These assurances are obtained following consultations among diplomatic, military, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals from the United States and the receiving country.

This Administration works extensively with receiving governments to obtain their assurances that appropriate security measures will be in place to substantially mitigate the risk that the transferred individual will engage or reengage in any terrorist or other hostile activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests. In particular, the Administration seeks assurances from receiving governments that they will take certain security measures that, in the U.S. Government’s experience, have proven to be effective in mitigating threats posed by former detainees. The specific measures that are ultimately negotiated vary depending on a range of factors, including the specific threat a detainee may pose, the geographic location of the receiving country, the receiving country’s domestic laws, the receiving country’s capabilities and resources, and, where applicable, the receiving country’s international legal obligations.

Importantly, the Administration will transfer a detainee only if it determines that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States, the threat posed by the detainee will be substantially mitigated, and the transfer is consistent with our humane treatment policy. The security assurances obtained from receiving countries generally cover:

  • restrictions on travel, which can include the denial of travel documents and other measures to prevent transferred detainees from leaving the country (or specific cities or regions in the country) for a specified period of time;
  • monitoring of the detainee, which may include physical and electronic monitoring, or other measures available under the receiving country’s domestic laws;
  • periodic sharing of information concerning the individual with the U.S. Government, including any information regarding attempts to travel outside of the receiving country; and
  • other measures to satisfy the United States’ national security interests and to aid the detainee in reentering society, such as medical support, skills training, language training, enrollment of the detainee in a reintegration or rehabilitation program, family relocation, and assistance in accessing a variety of public services.

In each case, the specific security assurances negotiated take into account the individual facts and circumstances of the transfer, including the detainee’s specific threat profile, as well as the capabilities and domestic legal authorities of the receiving government.

Approach to Transfers. Of the 147 detainees transferred during the current Administration: 81 have been transferred to countries in the Middle East, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula; 47 have been transferred to countries in Europe and Asia, 13 have been transferred to the Americas; and 6 have been transferred to the South Pacific. The Administration generally aims to transfer detainees to their home countries. Where that is not feasible, the Administration seeks resettlement opportunities in third countries. The Administration intends to continue working to secure transfer and security commitments from countries around the world, including transfers to rehabilitation programs, so long as these arrangements satisfy security and humane treatment requirements.

The Departments of State and Defense, through the offices of the Special Envoys for Guantanamo Closure, are implementing an engagement strategy for the 35 detainees currently approved for transfer, focused on engaging with countries that can accept detainees under conditions that satisfy both our national security requirements (to substantially mitigate the risk the detainees pose to the United States or U.S. persons or interests) and our humane treatment standards. In Fiscal Year 2015, the United States transferred 35 detainees from Guantanamo to ten countries: Afghanistan (4), Estonia (1), Georgia (3), Kazakhstan (5), Morocco (1), Oman (10), Saudi Arabia (2), Kuwait (1), Slovakia (2), and Uruguay (6). Thus far in Fiscal Year 2016, the United States has transferred 23 detainees from Guantanamo to nine countries: Mauritania (1), the United Kingdom (1), the United Arab Emirates (5), Ghana (2), Kuwait (1), Saudi Arabia (1), Oman (10), Montenegro (1), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (1). The Administration has commitments from, or is pursuing commitments from, foreign governments that account for the remaining 35 detainees approved for transfer.

The U.S. Government provides Congress with information on individual detainee cases as required by section 319 of the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-32), enacted into law on June 24, 2009. Section 319 provides that the President shall provide to Congress, not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment and every 90 days thereafter, a current accounting of all the measures taken to transfer each eligible detainee to the individual’s country of citizenship or another country. The most recent version of this classified report provides additional information on each detainee.

Once a foreign government has agreed to accept one or more detainees, the Administration works with that government to identify particular detainees whose circumstances – such as family ties and language – suggest they would be appropriate fits for that country. The Administration also negotiates security assurances – based on the detainee and the capabilities of the receiving country – to ensure that our national security interests are protected. Matching an individual detainee to a resettlement country is an interagency process, as described below.

  • The Offices of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure at both the Departments of State and Defense work with the recipient country to craft specific security and humane treatment assurances.
  • To assist the foreign government in identifying particular detainees for resettlement, the U.S. Government provides intelligence reporting and other information about potential transfer candidates, to include medical and behavioral information, and facilitates visits, if desired, by representatives of these foreign governments to Guantanamo Bay to meet and interview potential transfer candidates.
  • Prior to all transfers, relevant members of the President’s national security team – including the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State – review potential transfers to determine whether steps have been, or will be, taken through negotiated security assurances to substantially mitigate the risk of reengagement in any terrorist activity or otherwise threaten the United States or its allies or interests, and that the transfer is consistent with our humane treatment standards.
  • Based on these inputs and his own judgment, the Secretary of Defense makes the final decision on whether to transfer each detainee. If the Secretary of Defense approves a detainee transfer, he is required to make the required written certification to Congress not later than 30 days before the transfer of the individual.

Although the Administration’s policy preference is to repatriate detainees to their home countries, it is likely that the majority of future transfers will involve resettlements to third countries. For example, because the repatriation of the 29 Yemeni nationals currently eligible for transfer is not currently feasible and is not permitted by statute, the U.S. Government is working to identify other foreign countries where they may be resettled. To this end, the Department of State is negotiating with foreign governments to facilitate the transfer of designated detainees, provided that credible assurances of appropriate security and humane treatment measures can be obtained. The Departments of Defense and State will continue to regularly brief Congress on detainee transfers as additional information becomes available.

(2) Continued Review of Detainees by the Periodic Review Board

The Periodic Review Board (PRB) is an interagency body with representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The PRB examines whether, given current intelligence and other information, the continued detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. The Administration is committed to accelerating the review of those detainees who have not had an initial PRB review and are neither currently designated for transfer nor charged or convicted by military commission. The Administration plans to complete all initial reviews by fall of 2016 and will seek to identify responsible and humane transfer options in instances in which the PRB determines that a detainee is eligible for transfer. Even in cases where a detainee’s status is not changed by an initial PRB review, that detainee will continue to receive PRB file reviews every six months and will continue to be a candidate for an individualized disposition option, as discussed below.

(3) Ongoing Military Commissions and Disposition Options for Remaining Detainees

Military commissions under the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (MCA) continue at Guantanamo Bay. Currently, three active cases involving seven accused are in the pretrial phase and there are two cases in which detainees have pled guilty and await sentencing. The three active cases are litigating pretrial matters – many involving complex facts or legal questions – and remain in discovery. Both prosecutors and defense counsel have explained to the presiding military judges that it will take significant additional time to properly identify, produce, and examine the substantial volume of classified material involved in these cases. These complex issues and the volume of classified discovery have resulted in the filing of hundreds of motions – many of which raise matters of first impression in the commissions system. Resolution of these motions and completion of discovery are necessary steps in order to effectuate a full and fair trial, and to seek justice for both the victims and the accused. We can expect lengthy appeals once the active cases go to trial and reach verdicts. All of this currently costs $91 million per year and is expected to continue for several years.

Criminal cases of this magnitude are often lengthy and costly, but some processes may be improved by legislative changes. Thus, the Administration is considering seeking changes to the MCA to improve the efficacy, efficiency, and fiscal accountability of the commission process fully in alignment with the interests of justice and consistent with our American values of fairness in judicial processes. Some of these changes are relatively simple. For example, changes that would provide flexibility in conducting certain proceedings may ease the burden on the parties and facilitate better management of the process. Additionally, the Administration is also considering whether there are other legislative changes outside the context of the MCA that might enable detainees who are interested in pleading guilty in Article III courts, and serving prison sentences according to our criminal laws, to do so. We look forward to working with Congress on these proposals.

Detainees who remain designated for law of war detention will be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for the following disposition options:

A. U.S. Prosecution or Transfers to Third Countries

  • Article III or Military Commission Prosecution. Of the 46 detainees who currently are not eligible for transfer and are not in some stage of the military commissions process, 22 were initially referred by the Guantanamo Review Task Force for prosecution (either before a military commission or in an Article III court). In the event these detainees are transferred to the United States, it may be possible to prosecute some of them in one of these two fora. The Administration would work with Congress to establish a site for the ongoing military commission proceedings in a manner consistent with applicable domestic and international law. The Department of Justice would also consider whether it would be possible and appropriate to prosecute any of the other detainees in an Article III court. A number of federal district courts have an established track record of safely and securely conducting high-profile national security trials. Indeed, the record of Article III courts in terrorism cases – providing fair, thorough, and speedy disposition of these cases – is outstanding. It is not clear how many, if any, detainees would be subject to prosecution in an Article III court; this issue has not been assessed since the statutory prohibition on bringing detainees to the United States was enacted.
  • Transfers to Third Countries. Detainees not otherwise designated for transfer or subject to prosecution or conviction by military commissions or Article III courts will continue to be considered on a case-by-case basis for transfer to a foreign country, including for foreign prosecution. Any such transfer would be undertaken consistent with applicable domestic and international law and our humane treatment policy and would be carried out only where it was assessed that the conditions under which the detainee would be transferred would substantially mitigate the risk to the United States or U.S. persons or interests.

B. Law-of-War Detention in the United States

For the group of detainees who remain designated for continued detention and who are not candidates for U.S. prosecution or detention or transfer to a foreign country, the Administration will work with Congress to relocate them from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to a secure detention facility in the United States, while continuing to identify other non-U.S. dispositions. These individuals would be detained under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), P.L. 107-40, as informed by the law of war, and consistent with applicable domestic and international law for such detentions.

The Administration has already provided an analysis of the legal issues surrounding such detention. In response to the requirement set out in section 1039 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014, the Department of Justice, in coordination with the Department of Defense, submitted to Congress a report considering whether a Guantanamo detainee relocated to the United States could be eligible for certain forms of relief from removal or release from immigration detention or could have related constitutional rights (the Section 1039 report). (Appendix 1) The Section 1039 report’s analysis demonstrates that existing statutory safeguards and executive and congressional authorities provide robust protection of the national security.

Historically, the courts have treated detainees held under the law of war who are brought to the United States as outside the reach of immigration laws. In addition to the relevant judicial case law, Congress separately has the authority to provide expressly by statute that the immigration laws generally, or the particular forms of relief found in relevant provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), are inapplicable to any detainees held in the United States pursuant to the AUMF as informed by the law of war. The AUMF provides authority to detain those individuals within the United States until the end of hostilities and then transfer them out of the United States. Thus, assuming detainees are held in the United States by the Department of Defense pursuant to the AUMF and that the immigration laws do not apply to their detention or subsequent transfer abroad, Guantanamo detainees relocated to the United States would not have a right to obtain the relief described in relevant provisions of the INA. Moreover, even in a scenario where a relocated Guantanamo detainee was in removal proceedings under the INA, there are numerous bars to such relief. The INA and Federal regulations include various bars to obtaining relief on national security and other grounds, and provide legal authority to hold a detainee in immigration detention pending removal. The Section 1039 report is clear that the Department of Justice is “not aware of any case law, statute, or constitutional provision that would require the United States to grant any Guantanamo detainee the right to remain permanently in the United States,” and that in any event, “Congress could, moreover, enact legislation explicitly providing that no such statutory right exists.”

Based on past reviews and a 2015 survey of potential detention locations in the United States, the Department of Defense determined that, with modifications, a variety of Department of Defense, Bureau of Prisons, and state prison facilities could safely, securely, and humanely house Guantanamo detainees for the purpose of military commissions and continued law of war detention. For this plan, the Department of Defense identified 13 potential facilities for the purpose of building a cost estimate. This sample allowed the Department of Defense to assess Federal, Department of Defense, and state correctional facilities. As part of the assessment process, the Department of Defense examined ways to split the detainee population between sites, but concluded that a single detention center was the most efficient course of action. Additionally, the Department of Defense considered changes to achieve savings in operating (recurring) costs and facility requirements and modifications. Finally, the Department of Defense developed notional cost estimates for building a new detention center at an existing Department of Defense location.

The Department of Defense examined time needed for modifications; disruption to the existing mission at the site; access to troop housing and support; distance to a military airfield and military medical facilities; and force protection and anti-terrorism requirements. Any location would require modifications to meet the legal and policy standards for secure and humane treatment of detainees, at varying levels of cost. All sites would require significant security upgrades to cells, construction of or upgrades to medical facilities, additional surveillance equipment, and sensitive compartmented information facilities for classified work. All sites would also require the added construction or modification of buildings to create office spaces and a secure courtroom for military commissions.

The Fiscal Year 2015 cost to operate the Guantanamo Bay detention mission was approximately $445 million. In addition to annual operating costs, maintaining this mission in the future would require approximately $200 million in military construction that has been deferred in recent years, and $25 million for related furnishings. Based on site surveys and an in-depth review of every major cost center associated with detention operations, the Administration assesses that executing this plan, including the transfers described above, and then shifting to the operation of a U.S.-based detention facility for 30 to 60 detainees, would lower costs by between $140 million and $180 million annually, as compared to FY 2015 Guantanamo operations costs. The exact cost reductions would depend on whether the detention facility was relocated to an existing U.S. military facility or to a non-Department of Defense location that may not have preexisting support infrastructure or security.

Most of the savings would result from a decrease in the number of U.S. personnel necessary to guard and care for a smaller detainee population, and associated reductions in operations and facility costs. In addition, costs related to travel, information technology (IT), contracted support, headquarters activities in the National Capital Region, and detainee case reviews would be reduced. The Administration continues to assess whether further savings can be realized in these and additional areas. While reducing the population at Guantanamo to 30 to 60 detainees would also reduce costs, the Administration estimates that recurring costs at Guantanamo would be between $65 million and $85 million higher annually than at a U.S. facility, primarily due to higher Guantanamo costs associated with facility maintenance and sustainment, personnel, travel, and base support.

Transitioning to a U.S. detention facility would entail certain one-time costs. These one-time costs would include facility construction/modifications, security enhancements, IT development, detainee transportation from Guantanamo, and, if necessary, the cost to lease or purchase property or existing facilities. In total, the Administration estimates these one-time transition costs at a U.S. facility could be between $290 million and $475 million. However, within three to five years the lower operating costs of a U.S. facility with fewer detainees (compared to operating Guantanamo with the same number of detainees and the deferred military construction) could fully offset these transition costs, and generate at least $335 million in net savings over 10 years and up to $1.7 billion in net savings over 20 years.

C. Disposition of Future Detainees

The Administration approaches new captures on a case-by-case basis with a range of options, including: prosecution in the military commission system or in Federal court; transfer to another country for an appropriate disposition there; or law of war detention, in appropriate cases. For each potential or actual capture, the appropriate Departments would review the pertinent information and make a determination on the best course of action for the individual case. This has been the policy of this Administration and it has allowed commanders the flexibility to respond to the complexities of today’s conflicts. Our national security team has repeatedly chosen Article III courts in appropriate circumstances and the results have been clear – our court system has resolved cases involving some of the most hardened terrorists in the highest-profile cases. Consideration of whether future prosecutions should be pursued in a military commission or in an Article III court will take into account the demonstrated ability of the Article III courts to effectively deal with the enormous complexity and challenges of international terrorism cases, and the struggles of the military commissions to address the complicated issues they face – and to achieve recognition as being an effective forum.

D. Legislative Change

To accomplish this plan, the Administration will work with Congress to lift unnecessary prohibitions in current law. Additionally, the Administration is considering requesting changes to the Military Commissions Act of 2009 that would facilitate the efficacy and fiscal accountability of military commission proceedings while ensuring that they continue to operate in a fair and impartial manner.

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