Unpacking the President's Plan to Close Guantanamo

February 24, 2016Jacob Kraus-Preminger

On Tuesday, President Obama submitted a plan to Congress detailing how his Administration intends to proceed towards closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In his remarks, the President discussed the work he has done over the past seven years to bring the prison population down from 242 to 91, and outlined a number of actions that are necessary to move all remaining detainees out. These include continuing a couple of steps the Administration has already been taking: transferring the remaining the 35 detainees who have already been cleared by federal agencies to another country and continuing to review the remaining detainees to see if it is still necessary to keep them imprisoned. The plan also calls for continued use of both military commissions and federal courts to try detainees. In particular, President Obama spoke of the efficacy of federal courts (also known as Article III courts) in safely, quickly and successfully trying suspects of terrorism.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan was also the least clear: the fate of detainees whom the Administration feels cannot be tried, released or transferred to a third country. According to the President’s plan, these detainees should be transferred to a secure facility in the United States. While the plan itself does not name a specific location, the New York Times has profiled some prisons that could be suitable. As of now, however, completing this step of the plan would require Congress’ approval, as they continue to pass restrictions banning any transfers from Guantanamo to U.S. soil. Moreover, finding a new location for these detainees fails to address the fact that the U.S. Government would still be detaining them indefinitely, without any charges or an indication of when they will be released.

The continued presence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay poses a serious challenge to our work to ensure that all detained by the United States Government retain their fundamental human rights, including the right not to be held in prison without an accusation or due legal process. As Reform Jews, we are taught to hold all people to the same legal standards, as doing so respects the basic dignity we all share. While some may see indefinite detention as the only way forward for certain detainees, the plan itself outlines the other options, such as a fair and speedy trial, that are at our disposal. As President Obama continues his work to close the prison, you can encourage his administration to increase the pace of detainee reviews and transfers so that we can hasten the end of indefinite detention. You can also learn more about our efforts to defend civil liberties by visiting the RAC issue page.

Feature Image courtesy of RUSMCUSA, Wikimedia.

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