A dangerous mistake
Jordan Ryan | Monday, February 29, 2016
The detention center established at Guantanamo Bay has been a hot button issue since its creation in 2002. President Obama has been vocal in his objection to the continued operation of the facility and has remained steadfast in his commitment to close it. In fact, closing Guantanamo Bay was one of the President’s core campaign promises in the 2008. He pledged that he would have Guantanamo closed within one year of taking office. Of course, this never occurred.
On February 23rd, President Obama announced his renewed intention to shut down Guantanamo, also known as “Gitmo.” The decision, unsurprisingly, quickly developed into a partisan issue. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan released a statement claiming that, “After seven years, President Obama has yet to convince the American people that moving Guantanamo terrorists to our homeland is smart or safe.” The possible closure of Gitmo and the transfer of what are perhaps some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists to American soil are incredibly important issues which could have dramatic effects on American security interests.
Gitmo was refurbished in 2002, in the post-9/11 environment, with the intent to house international terrorists who are believed to pose threats to U.S. interests. The facility has been largely cleaned out over the past 14 years with approximately 678 of the 779 total detainees having been released since 2002. Since assuming office, President Obama has released 146 detainees. The release of the remaining 91 is now his express goal.
President Obama intends to not only close the facility, but also to transfer 56 of the remaining 91 detainees to prison facilities in the United States. These remaining individuals are committed killers who present clear dangers to United States security interests and the communities where these transfer facilities are located. According to Kevin Liptak and Elise Labott of CNN, these prisoners are so dangerous that they simply cannot be transferred elsewhere in the world.
Not only is President Obama’s stated plan irresponsible, it is outright illegal. In 2011, President Obama signed into law bi-partisan supported legislation expressly prohibiting the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to U.S. soil. Attorney General Loretta Lynch confirmed last week that it would be illegal to transfer the remaining Gitmo detainees to the United States.It now is illegal under U.S. law to transfer Gitmo detainees to the United States for trial, to hold them on domestic soil or use federal funds to prosecute them in civil court. These individuals pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States. They need to remain under guard by the United States military and contained in an appropriate secure facility away from American citizens.
The procedure established by the Obama administration for determining which detainees are safe to release is also subject to well-founded criticism. The Guantanamo Periodic Review Board decides which terrorists should be released. The Board is staffed with members of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State; the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The Board members convene, deliberate and make recommendations as to the release of specific individuals from the Guantanamo complex. The Board was established not through congressional authorization, but rather through a 2011 Executive Order of President Obama. Of the 21 detainees thus far reviewed, 18 have been cleared for release. Many of these decisions are, at best, questionable.
Oftentimes, released detainees return to terrorist activities. According to the Director of National Intelligence, 116 released detainees have reengaged in terrorist activities. Look to the infamous example of the Bowe Bergdahl terrorist swap. In 2014, the United States, with the direct involvement of President Obama, released five known Taliban fighters detained at Guantanamo in exchange for the return of Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Once released, all five terrorists were put under a one-year house arrest in Qatar. The one-year period ended in 2015 and, following the expiration of their house detention, at least one of the prisoners already has reengaged with Al Qaeda. The potential reengagement of even one detainee in a terrorist act is a risk our government cannot responsibly afford to take.
The closing of Guantanamo and the transfer of the terrorists safely housed there should not be a political issue. The decision to set free or relocate these highly dangerous, committed killers implicates fundamental national security concerns. There is no margin for error. Unfortunately, President Obama is abdicating his first responsibility as Commander in Chief, to protect the lives of American citizens, in order to pursue his liberal legacy and fulfill an uninformed and misguided promise which he made to his core constituency. Congress must act to enforce existing law and stop the President from making what will likely be a costly mistake with potentially horrific consequences.
Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies political science and peace studies along with minors in Constitutional studies and business economics. She can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.