The White House says that President Joe Biden is already planning to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some of the most notorious al-Qaeda and Taliban figures are currently being held, before the end of his first term.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the president’s intent during a press conference on Friday, noting, “That certainly is our intention,” after she was asked about the future of Camp Delta.
“And we are three weeks in, I realize, at a certain point I can’t say that anymore, but we are still just three and a half weeks in, so we are undertaking an NSC process, which is how it should work. Through that, to work with the interagency, to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has inherited from the previous administration,” said Psaki.
“I would note that in order to see this process through completely and thoroughly, there are a number of key policy roles that still need to be filled within the interagency,” she continued.
Then-President Barack Obama also pledged to close “Gitmo” within his first year in office but failed to do so after getting pushback from Republicans who did not want to see terrorist suspects transferred to prisons on U.S. soil.
Nevertheless, the former president remained adamant that it should be closed.
“For many years, it has been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security—it undermines it,” he said in February 2016, when there were still some 91 prisoners at the facility. Currently, only about 40 remain, but among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that destroyed both World Trade Center towers, heavily damaged the Pentagon, and killed 2,997 Americans.
At its peak in 2003, the facility housed about 680 terrorist suspects. During the George W. Bush years, 532 inmates were released.
For her part, Psaki did not lay out a closure timeline and instead said that a “robust” review process was underway, ostensibly to determine feasibility. She said officials from several agencies including the Defense and Justice Departments would be involved in the review.
“There are many players from many different agencies who need to be part of this policy discussion about the steps forward,” she told reporters Friday.
It’s unclear if the Biden administration will allow states to refuse to accept certain prisoners, which was a frequent occurrence during the Obama years.
Biden had said during his candidacy he favored closing the facility. Also, Defense Secretary Lloyd Benson said during his Senate confirmation hearings that he, too, wanted to see the facility shuttered.
“Guantanamo has provided us the capability to conduct law of war detention in order to keep our enemies off the battlefield, but I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantanamo to close,” he said.
Some Republicans have already begun pushing back.
“The Democrats’ obsession with bringing terrorists into Americans’ backyards is bizarre, misguided, and dangerous,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Friday after Psaki’s comments, The Associated Press reported. “Just like with President Obama, Republicans will fight it tooth and nail.”
Former President Donald Trump never pledged to close the facility and instead promised to fill it with “bad dudes.” He did approve the release of one prisoner, a Saudi national who reached a plea agreement.
Ten men currently face trial by military commission, the AP noted, including five who are charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks and providing logistical support for it.
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