Tuesday, February 23, 2016

John McCain: Guantanamo moving to existing facilities in the U.S. a real Chinese menu.

Obama Releasing Plan to Close Guantanamo


In a move sure to shakeup the 2016 presidential race and spark a heated battle with Congress, the Obama administration on Tuesday morning will release its plan to close the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and move a number of the remaining detainees to a secure facility on U.S. soil, officials confirmed to Foreign Policy.
For all the hype and early cries of “not in my backyard,” the plan is expected to look familiar. Obama administration officials have for years outlined their strategy for closing the prison: transfer all the detainees who can be safely moved to third-party countries; charge as many detainees as can be charged through the military justice system; and move those who remain — the “irreducible minimum,” or “worst of the worst,” depending on your side of the aisle — to a facility in the U.S. for indefinite detention as enemy combatants. Future detainees, such as those taken in the fight against ISIS, could be tried in federal courts in the U.S., administration officials have suggested.
In a string of preemptive press releases, Republican lawmakers slammed the White House for giving them what they asked for, when they asked for it: a closure plan, due on Feb. 23.
“Congress passed a law in November explicitly barring the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to domestic soil,” Republican Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), said in a statement Monday evening. “With ever-growing threats abroad and our increased efforts to combat ISIS, we need a place to house these terrorists, and that place is not in our communities, nor back on the battlefield.”
Why would the White House release the powder-keg plan now, amid key early primary states and sparring over a Supreme Court justice nominee? That same law the senators referenced — the annual defense authorization act, which Obama signed in late November after first vetoing the bill — mandates that in 90 days from enactment, on Feb. 23, the secretary of defense, attorney general, and director of national intelligence are required to submit to congressional defense committees “the details of a comprehensive strategy for the detention of current and future individuals captured and held” as “war on terror” detainees.
Guantanamo currently holds 91 detainees, with 35 approved for transfer to other countries.
Tellingly, Scott, Roberts, and Gardner all represent states where the Defense Department has conducted site surveys to determine potential locations and costs for housing Guantanamo detainees in the U.S. Scott is up for reelection, and all three senators have endorsed fellow Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for the Republican nomination. Rubio has been outspoken that the current population at Guantanamo, as well as future terrorism suspects, should be kept at the facility in Cuba.
The plan and its timing promises to shakeup the 2016 election, as it drops just days before the Democratic primary in South Carolina. Given sizable opposition from state officials, lawmakers and voters to the mere concept of bringing detainees to the U.S. (regardless of where, whether they’ve ever been charged with any crime, or the fact terrorists are already held in the U.S.), the Republicans have already begun this cycle to use Guantanamo to hit Democrats. And even key Democrats such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have actively avoided the question of bringing detainees to U.S. soil.
The Obama administration has been working on the closure plan since at least last June,  but the Pentagon has repeatedly delayed its delivery to Congress. First, it was to allow the Defense Department to survey potential sites, and then again when the plan was determined to be too costly, undermining the White House’s argument that closing Guantanamo would save money. As recently as last week, officials wouldn’t even say when they considered the deadline to be.
Lawmakers, for their part, are trying to have it both ways. They’ve pushed the Obama administration for a plan that includes potential alternative sites, but they’ve consistently extended an explicit ban on bringing the detainees to American soil, year after year, even as the administration has been clear an “irreducible minimum” of detainees would need to be moved to the U.S. because they could not safely be moved anywhere else. They’ve demanded costs be included in the plan, though they’ve also barred the administration from spending any money to construct or modify — or plan to construct or modify — new or existing facilities in the U.S. The White House, for its part, says the Pentagon’s more recent surveys of military, federal and state prisons in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas didn’t violate that law.
“From what I’m hearing, it’s a series of options, which is of course a bad joke … we want a plan. Where do you want to send them?” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who supports closing Guantanamo, said in November as the delay dragged on. “How am I supposed to consider five or six different places? That’s not a plan, that’s a Chinese menu.”
As Obama indicated in November in his statement accompanying his signature on the authorization act, lawmakers may have left him little choice but executive action if he wishes to accomplish his campaign promise of closing the prison before he leaves office. In response to the mere dangling of that threat, lawmakers threatened to take the president to court — though even that dramatic step of unilateral closing looks less likely as the clock ticks away.
Credit: MLADEN ANTONOV / Staff

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