Right before delivering his first State of the Union address, President Trump signed an executive order to keep the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, open and ready to accept new enemy combatants. His two predecessors, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, had worked to shut down the controversial prison, which Bush opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Trump had promised to keep it active during the campaign, and while he has not sent any new detainees to Guantanamo, his order says the U.S. reserves the right to do so, if the defense secretary recommends it for people the U.S. captures in armed conflict.
Terrorists "are evil," and "when possible, we have no choice but to annihilate them," Trump said. "When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants." He implicitly criticized Bush and Obama for releasing all but 41 of the 728 people detained there, at least 17 percent of whom re-engaged in military conflict, according to the latest report from the Director of National Intelligence. Almost all of the former detainees who reverted to armed conflict were released under Bush, and Trump said he's keeping the Obama-era detainee vetting process that has apparently proved effective.
Practically speaking, Trump's order won't do much, Obama's Guantanamo envoy, Lee Wolosky, tells The Associated Press. "But as a symbolic matter, it changes a great deal because the two presidents before him were trying to close Guantanamo because they recognized that it was a detriment to our national security." J. Wells Dixon, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that formally making it U.S. policy "to detain Muslims forever without charge in an offshore prison" is "politically expedient but exceedingly stupid no matter how you look at it," except as a terrorist recruitment bonanza.