Pentagon Chief: Guantánamo Bay Prisoners Too Dangerous to Leave U.S.

AFP/File Paul J. Richards
AFP/File Paul J. Richards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Ash Carter, while testifying before a House panel Thursday, indicated that some Guantánamo Bay prison detainees must be transferred to the United States because they are too dangerous to be sent to other countries.

“The reason to have a conversation with the Congress about the future of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay is precisely because there are people there who cannot be safely transferred to the custody of another country,” the Pentagon chief told the House Appropriations Committee. “That means they need to stay in detention. And so they’ve got to go somewhere, and if they’re not going to be at Guantánamo Bay, they have to be somewhere in the United States.”

He continued:

The proposal that the president made and that we helped him craft asks Congress, which — because doing so is forbidden by law now — to work with us to see if we can devise a detention facility in the United States precisely in recognition of the fact that we’re never going to be able to let these people go.

Legislation that received bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama last year made it illegal for the administration to use federal funds to build or modify a facility on U.S. soil to house Guantánamo prisoners.

Nevertheless, earlier this week, the Pentagon shared the Obama administration’s plan to shut down the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with Congress.

Under the proposal, nearly three-dozen of the remaining 91 detainees would be transferred to other countries, and the remaining ones would be sent to a to-be-determined facility in the United States.

Members of the Obama administration, including Carter and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, have acknowledged that it would be illegal for the Obama administration to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to the United States.

“That is the state of the law,” Lynch told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Wednesday, citing the most recent defense policy President Obama signed into law last year.

“It’s certain that we would be prohibited from doing so. I’m not aware of any efforts to do so at this time, in any event,” she declared in response to a question about the Pentagon’s plan to close the detention center.

When running for his first-term in the White House, President Obama promised to close the Guantánamo Bay prison and has made similar pledges since, but the facility continues to operate.

Closing Guantánamo Bay is still a “goal” of President Obama, noted Lynch on Wednesday.

“The administration is committed to closing that and of course we support those efforts,” she added.

Carter did suggest to the House panel that there are no plans to return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba.

“The naval station [there] is secure,” declared Carter, answering “no” when asked if there is a plan to change America’s historic role on the island nation’s bay.


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