An unused guard tower at Camp Delta, one of the parts of the detention center at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Dec. 11, 2016.

An unused guard tower at Camp Delta, one of the parts of the detention center at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Dec. 11, 2016. Ben Fox/AP

How Trump Just Might Close Guantanamo Prison

The president asked SecDef and Congress to ensure that detention policies support warfighting aims. That should mean shutting Gitmo down.

Will President Trump close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay?  

This question may sound preposterous. After all, President Obama, who called the prison a threat to national security and American ideals, actually tried to close it. President Trump, by contrast, is on record as vehemently favoring not only its continuation but its expansion. On Jan. 30 he reaffirmed that commitment both in his State of the Union address and in an executive order revoking President Obama’s order commanding its closure. 

Why, then, even raise the prospect of closing Guantanamo during this administration? The answer lies in two related actions recently taken by the president: his command to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “reexamine our military detention policy” and report back to him within 90 days and his request to Congress to ensure that “we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists.” The two actions in conjunction represent an unexpected open-mindedness on the part of the president with respect to detention policy. By seeking a broad-focus, “blank-sheet-of-paper” review, asking Mattis to take charge, and inviting Congress to join with them, President Trump acted prudently and, dare I say it, wisely. 

What Secretary Mattis should find and report to our president is that our current detention policies, including the use of Guantanamo, are a failure. They are overly cumbersome and restrictive from a military perspective. Also, they embody elements that violate core elements of U.S. law and human rights and damage our international reputation and our ability to achieve our foreign policy objectives. A well-crafted detention policy would seek to eliminate these costs and thus strengthen our nation’s defenses. 

Such a policy should meet the following criteria: 

First, it would permit the military, working in concert with other agencies and departments, to swiftly transport prisoners to the optimum locations for interrogation and detention—including, if need be, the United States. Because of our overly restrictive or unclear detention policies, tactical operations are being hamstrung, U.S. forces are suspected of making kill over capture decisions in anti-terrorism operations, and naval ships at sea are being used as interrogation sites, a wasteful use of valuable assets.

Second, while the U.S. has the legal authority to hold prisoners taken in the war against terrorism indefinitely, we should avoid buying into the endless headache of the wholesale or indefinite detention business. The only prisoners we should hold are those who have harmed or who directly threaten the United States. They should be tried and put away; the rest should be transferred to our allies. Detention policy should ensure that a pre-built off-ramp exists for every person brought into the system.

Third, detention operations should be conducted in strict conformity with U.S. and international law, including the Geneva Conventions. Not only is this mandated, it would reduce the legal friction that has proven so counterproductive in the fight against terrorism.

Fourth, the system to try terrorism defendants should yield swift justice consonant with the best traditions of the American legal system. Since 9/11, Article III courts have fairly and efficiently tried and convicted more than 620 individuals on terrorism-related charges. By contrast, despite more than 15 years of effort and three iterations, the military commission system has failed to try a single one of the detainees credibly alleged to have participated in the 9/11 mass murders. President Trump himself has noted the staggering inefficiency of the military commission system.

Fifth, U.S. detention operations should be harmonized with those of our allies, for the simple reason that this war is not a solo fight. One of the unfortunate mistakes made by the Bush administration in its response to 9/11 was to attempt to create a different legal architecture than the one that the international community had crafted so painstakingly out of the horrors of World War II. Our allies could not and will not condone torture, abandon due process protections as the military commission system has done, or support Guantanamo’s system of indefinite detention. 

And, sixth, our detention system should be cost-efficient. Whatever Guantanamo is, it is not that. The cost of holding a single Guantanamo detainee is about 139 times more expensive than the housing a prisoner in the escape-proof Supermax prisons in the continental United States. Moreover, the military assigns 2,000 soldiers to guard the 41 Guantanamo prisoners, an unconscionably wasteful use of scarce personnel. The ratio of Guantanamo guards to prisoners is more than 48 to 1, while in the federal prison system it is about five prisoners to one guard.   

The application of these criteria to our detention policies would lead to numerous long-needed reforms, all of which would help ensure that these policies support our warfighting objectives. These reforms would necessarily include the closure of Guantanamo and the elimination of the military commission system.

Mattis, who prizes boldness and whose command history shows no tendency for reinforcing failure, will likely recommend a break with the dead-end Bush and Obama detention policies.   When he does, will President Trump and Congress abandon campaign rhetoric and act in the national interest? My hope is that they will.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.