WASHINGTON, D.C. — Defense Secretary Ash Carter reiterated that Congress must change the law before the Obama administration transfers any prisoners from the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a facility on American soil.
“There are people in the Guantánamo Bay detention facility whom it is not safe to transfer… they have to stay in U.S. detention,” Carter told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Now, that can’t be done unless Congress acts, which means that Congress has to support the idea that it would be good to move this facility and/or the detainees to the United States,” he stressed, later adding, “So it is good if it can be done, but it cannot be done under current law. The law has to be changed.”
Breitbart News learned from a Pentagon spokesperson that the Obama administration is considering all possible locations to potentially house Guantánamo detainees.
Asked whether the Obama administration would be open to transferring detainees to American territories outside the continental United States, Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman at the U.S. naval base in Cuba where the prison is located, did not explicitly rule out that option.
While briefing reporters, Carter suggested that there are lawmakers who have expressed a willingness to shut down the prison and transfer some of the detainees to the United States.
Last year, Congress passed legislation with bipartisan support that prohibits the Obama administration from using federal funds to build or modify a facility on U.S. soil to house Guantánamo prisoners. President Obama signed that bill into law.
The Pentagon submitted a proposal to Congress last week outlining the Obama administration’s plan to shut down the U.S. military prison.
Under the plan, nearly three dozen of the remaining 91 detainees at Guantánamo would be transferred to foreign countries. The rest, estimated at fewer than 60, would be sent to a yet to be determined facility on U.S. soil.
“There are those in Congress who have indicated a willingness to consider such a proposal, which is why we gave it and I hope they do and I hope they considered it favorably, because on balance, this would be a good thing to not pass on to a future administration and I really believe that,” the Pentagon chief told reporters.
In January, Carter told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that it is currently against the law to transfer detainees from the American military prison to the United States.
“It’s against the law now to establish another detention facility [in the U.S.], so therefore we have to get the support of Congress,” said Carter.
President Obama’s attorney general has also stressed that it is illegal for the administration to transfer detainees to the American homeland.
“With respect to individuals being transferred to the United States, the law currently does not allow that,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee in November 2015. “That is not, as I am aware of, going to be contemplated, given the legal prescriptions.”
“That is the state of the law,” Lynch told a House appropriations subcommittee last week, adding, “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.”
Last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Appropriations Committee that some detainees must be transferred to the United States because they are too dangerous to be sent elsewhere.
“There are people there who cannot be safely transferred to the custody of another country,” said the Pentagon chief. “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 reiterated that transferring Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. “is forbidden by law now.”
President Obama has made it a priority to close the Guantánamo prison since promising to do so during his 2008 campaign.
When announcing his plan to close down the detention facility last week, President Obama argued that the United States as already housed terrorists within its borders and the government managed to keep the country safe.
“Part of my message to the American people is we’re already holding a bunch of really dangerous terrorists in the United States because we threw the book at them and there have been no incidents. We’ve managed it just fine,” he explained.
The Republican-controlled Congress has declared the president’s plan dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.
Last week, House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) threatened the Obama administration with a lawsuit should the president proceed unilaterally with his plan to close the Guantánamo detention center.