Defense Department officials announced on Saturday that the military have begun surveying sites on American soil that could possibly house Guantanamo Bay detainees if Congress approves Obama’s request to close the detention center. The White House has said that the Obama administration is in the final stages of drafting a plan to shutter Guantanamo Bay. Congress was notified Thursday that a Pentagon team was set to survey potential sites for Guantanamo Bay detainees, according to a defense official. The site tours will inform “future decisions about possible locations for housing the remainder of the Guantanamo detainees when we are able to close the facility,” the official said. The team has inspected Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and is scheduled to tour the naval brig in South Carolina.
They are also expected to look at a number of civilian facilities. The possible move of detainees requires approval from Congress, as does any transfer of inmates to the U.S., since lawmakers would have to change a 2010 law that bans transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. for any reason. Pentagon officials said that the survey of sites will help advise future decisions about possible locations for housing the remainder of the Guantanamo Bay detainees when they are able to close the facility. Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross announced the military survey of prisons on American soil.
“DoD personnel will consider surveying a variety of military and civilian sites to determine their candidacy for holding law of war detainees in a humane and secure manner,” Ross said, adding that the list of potential facilities is “broad.” “Security and humane treatment are our primary concerns but, cost is also a factor we’re analyzing,” Ross said. “As the population at Guantanamo ages, for example, additional medical expenses are required, and the annual cost of keeping each detainee at Guantanamo goes up,” he added. “Only those locations that can hold detainees at a maximum security level will be considered,” Ross said.
Pentagon officials emphasized that no decision has been made and the prison visits are aimed at getting a “baseline standard” on costs and requirements of a detention facility to house Gitmo detainees. The closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama, who pledged on his first day in office to shut it down. But that effort has faced persistent hurdles, including staunch opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress and ongoing difficulties transferring out the dozens of detainees who have been cleared to leave.
Officials have to identify countries to take the detainees and must get assurances that they will be appropriately monitored and will not pose a security threat. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has made it clear that the Defense Department will not release any detainees until they have all the needed security assurances. About 52 of the 116 current detainees have been cleared for release, however the remaining 64 are considered too dangerous to be released. Assessments will cover a range of factors, including the costs associated with holding the additional detainees, holding the military trials, engineering and construction, force protection, housing for troops and security. Transportation and other operating issues also are factors.
Senator Pat Roberts fired back against the possible relocation of prisoners to American soil saying the move “reflects another egregious overstep by this administration,” “Congress has consistently stopped Obama by law from moving a single detainee to the U.S.,” he said. “Not on my watch will any terrorist be placed in Kansas.” Despite the congressional restrictions, President Obama still wants to fulfill his pledge to shutter the Cuba prison camp. He hasn’t yet provided a plan for achieving this to Congress.