January 31, 2018

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. Peter Weber

January 11, 2017

Wednesday, Jan. 11, marks 15 years since detainees first arrived at the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. After the recent transfer of four cleared Yemeni prisoners to Saudi Arabia, the camp holds 55 detainees, 19 of whom have been cleared for release. Another 36 are subject to indefinite detention with no charge or trial to date, and 10 have been charged with war crimes.

Gitmo has held about 780 prisoners over the last decade and a half, and contrary to President Obama's repeated promises to close the facility, it is expected to remain open when President-elect Donald Trump takes office this month.

For the inmates who remain, the presidential transition is a source of "a great deal of anxiety and fear," says Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing five detainees. Trump has indicated he does not wish to see Gitmo shut down and has hinted that he may be interested in sending Americans accused of terrorism to be tried at the facility in a military tribunal, which does not accord many key constitutional trial rights. Bonnie Kristian

June 21, 2016

President Obama has faced numerous roadblocks from Republicans preventing him from following through on his pledge to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the latest obstacle comes from his own attorney general, Loretta Lynch, Reuters reports, citing senior administration officials. At least twice in the past three months, Lynch has reportedly stepped in to block a proposal to allow certain inmates to plead guilty in U.S. federal court via videoconference — thus averting a ban on Guantanamo inmates coming to the U.S. mainland instituted by congressional Republicans. Those inmates would then be imprisoned in a third country.

Lynch's objections are grounded in the laws and customs of criminal procedures, which Justice Department officials say block both pleading guilty over videoconferencing and also pleading guilty without adequate options. "There were some frustrations," a White House official told Reuters. "The top lawyer in the land has weighed in, and that was the DOJ's purview to do that." The State Department, Pentagon, and defense lawyers for the remaining Guantanamo detainees all back the measure.

Obama has reduced the Guantanamo prison population to 80, from about 240 when he took office, and the White House expects 30 detainees cleared for transfer to be moved overseas in the next few months. Another 10 could be approved for transfer later, and 10 more are being tried in military tribunals. Of the remaining 30 detainees, the White House says that 10 to 20 could be dispatched through videoconference guilty pleas, and with 10 to 20 prisoners being guarded by 2,000 military personnel, Obama might finally win congressional backing for closing the prison. Some of the prisoners in limbo were tortured by the U.S., making their evidence inadmissible in U.S. courts. "The beauty of a guilty plea is you don't need a trial," a senior administration official tells Reuters. Peter Weber

February 24, 2016

Colin Powell agrees with President Obama's plan to shut down Guantanamo Bay, saying a closure of the detention facility is in the "best interest" of the United States.

"Do we really need to keep this place open for 50 remaining detainees who we can easily move to a secure facility in the United States?" the former secretary of state asked during an appearance Wednesday on Andrea Mitchell Reports.

Under Obama's plan, over the next few months, about 35 of the detainees will be transferred to other countries, while 60 prisoners who are facing trial by military commission or those who are not facing charges but have been deemed too dangerous for release will be sent to facilities in the United States. Powell said this can be done without endangering citizens, and he's certain federal courts will do a good job prosecuting the suspected terrorists. "You put a terrorist before a jury of Americans who are worried about their security, and I'm not worried about them getting off on some plea deal," he said. "They're going to get hammered, and they have been hammered." Catherine Garcia

February 23, 2016

President Obama presented his long-awaited plan to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility Tuesday, painting the controversial prison as a drain on military resources that is "contrary to our values."

"It has been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security," Obama said of the prison he's sought to close since 2009. "It undermines it."

The Pentagon plan to transfer remaining detainees and shutter the prison could cost up to $475 million; though it outlines potential options for where detainees could be moved, no specific sites are named. Congress is expected to block the plan. Becca Stanek

February 23, 2016

On Tuesday, the Defense Department is expected to send Congress a plan to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a goal of President Obama's since he took office in 2009. The Obama administration has reduced the number of prisoners at the camp to 91, including 10 who've been charged or convicted by a military judicial commission, 46 being held as wartime detainees, and 35 who have been recommended for transfer to another country. The Pentagon study, mandated under a defense funding bill last fall, will include a list of potential federal prisons that could hold the remaining prisoners.

Congress has barred Obama from transferring Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. mainland, and the current GOP-led Congress is unlikely to repeal that restriction. Peter Weber

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