President Trump relishes in undoing the policies of the Obama administration, and the State of the Union proved no different, as he announced a key Guantánamo Bay decision.
Trump announced during the address that he had signed an executive order to keep the Guantánamo Bay detention facility open, reversing a top Obama administration decision to shut it down.
“I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay,” he said Tuesday evening.
He also asked Congress to ensure that the U.S. has the necessary power to detain terrorists.
The executive order said the U.S. may detain people captured in connection with an armed conflict for the duration of the conflict, including members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Currently, the U.S. military facility in Cuba has 41 detainees, most of whom are deemed too dangerous to release or whose countries cannot adequately keep track of them.
The order also said the U.S. may transport additional detainees to Guantánamo when “lawful and necessary to protect the nation.” It ordered Mattis, in consultation with heads of other relevant agencies, to recommend a detention policy going forward. It did not prohibit detainees from being transferred to a court or competent tribunal of the U.S. having lawful jurisdiction.
Republican senators met the announcement with applause, as many had worked hard during the Obama administration to keep the facility open.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who fought closure of the facility through yearly defense policy bills, said Trump “clearly showed his commitment to fighting terrorism” by revoking Obama’s order to close Guantánamo.
“What’s more, he’s going to start using it again as the counterterrorism tool it is. President Trump is exactly right to take this bold action,” he said in a statement.
“According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, approximately 30 percent of the detainees transferred overseas from Guantánamo Bay have re-entered the fight against the United States and our allies,” Inhofe added.
“Not only was this a direct threat to American families at home and overseas, but it was also a sign that Obama wasn’t serious about truly defeating terrorists—just temporarily taking them out of the battle.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a retired Army National Guard colonel and Iraq veteran, called Trump’s decision “an essential step.”
“The facility has housed many responsible for planning the attacks upon our nation on 9/11 and continues to imprison some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. President Trump’s decision is an essential step in the right direction toward preserving our safety and security,” she said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said he strongly supported Trump’s decision.
“I was especially pleased to hear him commit to a defense budget that takes seriously the threats we face, and I strongly support his executive order to keep Guantánamo Bay open,” he said.
Democrats and civil liberty groups were displeased, however.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he is strongly opposed to the decision, as well as to the suggestion of adding new detainees.
“I have long fought for a responsible closure of the facility, and I will continue to do so until that goal is accomplished,” he said.
He argued that it was an “international eyesore” and a colossal waste of taxpayer money. “It is past time to close it down, and President Trump’s actions are taking us in the wrong direction.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which fought even during the Obama administration to shut down the facility, blasted Trump’s decision.
“In trying to give new life to a prison that symbolizes America’s descent into torture and unlawful indefinite detention, Trump will not make this country any safer, ” ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi said.
A week before Trump announced the decision, someone leaked it to Politico. However, that did not stop him from going through with the decision.