Plan to Close
Guantanamo Bay Prison Faces Domestic Opposition
June 5, 2013
President Barack Obama is renewing his effort to close the U.S. military
detention center at Guantanamo Bay, but domestic opposition and the
complexities of what to do with the prisoners there pose significant
obstacles to shutting the facility on the Cuban shoreline.
The U.S. has held terrorism suspects at the prison since 2002. But in a
major national security speech Thursday, Obama said the ongoing
operation of the detention center - now with 166 prisoners - damages the
reputation of the United States around the world.
"The original premise for opening [Guantanamo Bay] - that the detainees
would not be able to challenge their detention -- was found
unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, [Guantanamo] has
become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of
law," Obama said.
Nonetheless, recent surveys in the U.S. show that voters favor keeping
Guantanamo open. In the last few years, several U.S. communities have
voiced opposition to moving the Guantanamo detainees to prisons inside
the U.S. Lawmakers in Congress have mixed opinions about what to do
about the facility, and have moved to block transfer of the suspects to
other countries or to bring them to the U.S. for trial.
Senator John McCain was once a prisoner of war in Vietnam and also was
Obama's Republican presidential opponent in 2008. McCain favors closing
the Guantanamo Bay prison and pledged to work with Obama on a plan. But
he said the issues surrounding the facility are complex and that it is
not clear what should be done with the prisoners being held there.
"There are a lot of moving parts to closing Guantanamo Bay, not the
least of which is where you put these people, which ones have to be kept
on almost an indefinite basis, those who are eligible for military
courts, and those who are eligible for civilian courts. All those are
tied together," McCain said.
Other lawmakers oppose closing the
prison and sending some of the prisoners back to their home countries.
Obama lifted his self-imposed ban on transferring some of the detainees
back to Yemen. But one senator, Saxby Chambliss, says he opposes closing
Guantanamo and has no confidence that Yemen can control any of the
prisoners returned there.
"Between December 2009 and today, has Yemen shown any indication that
they are more capable of looking after those individuals? Absolutely
not. And If we were to transfer those individuals to Yemen, it would be
just like turning them loose," Chambliss said.
Remes, a human rights attorney who has represented several Guantanamo
prisoners, said he does not think Obama's move to lift his ban on
repatriating the Yemeni detainees has any practical effect unless he
actually frees them.
But he said the possibility that some freed prisoners might engage in
anti-American terrorist acts should not be the controlling factor in
whether they are released.
"Even if one or two or three detainees, not necessarily in Yemen but
anywhere, and not necessarily one, two or three, went back and did bad
things, that doesn’t justify holding the large majority, the vast
majority of detainees captive or hostage to the acts, to the bad acts of
these few men," Remes said.
Remes said risks are inherent in the release of any of the prisoners.
"One has to accept some risk if anyone’s going to be transferred. That’s
simply the reality," he said.