Earlier this week, President Obama unveiled his long-awaited plan to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in the face of major opposition from lawmakers worried that the release of these detainees presents a significant threat to homeland security.
While the President says leaving the facility open is “contrary to the nation’s values” and “undermines our standing in the world,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) recently expressed concern that the President’s plan will increase the terrorist threat to the US.
“The law is clear, and the American people have spoken,” said McCaul. “They do not want the President to close Guantanamo Bay. They do not want battle-hardened jihadists transferred into our country. And they do not want our communities to become terrorist targets. We are at war, yet incredibly the President is more focused on relocating and releasing enemy combatants than on detaining new ones.”
McCaul continued, “He has already let nearly 150 go free—many of which have returned to the fight—and now he wants to give dozens more a one-way ticket to America. I believe the President’s plan would increase the terror threat to the United States, and I implore him to focus on winning the war against Islamist terror rather than trying to find new homes for its jihadists.”
The majority of the American people side with McCaul, according to a recent poll by Rasmussen Reports. The poll revealed that 56 percent of voters believe Guantanamo Bay should remain open and do not believe that detainees should be transferred to US soil.
Currently, there are 91 prisoners at the detention center. Under the President’s plan, 30 to 60 detainees would be transferred to maximum-security prisons in the US. The remaining detainees would likely be moved to other countries.
The plan provided few details on the specifics of where to re-locate the detainees. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, “The absence of a specific recommendation for an alternative location proves that there is no suitable location.”
Sen. Roberts believes the closing of Guantanamo Bay will simply establish a “GITMO North.” Shutting down the facility will not thwart terrorist recruitment efforts, and Roberts said the Administration cannot prove that closing the facility will improve security.
“There is no intelligence estimate of the threat it may pose to those living and working in these communities,” said Roberts. “It will be at great cost to the American people both in precious taxpayer dollars and most important, in their safety and peace of mind.”
Intelligence officials have noted a high recidivism rate among the jihadists released from GITMO. Last year, a report from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, revealed that almost 18 percent (116 of 647) of former Guantanamo Bay detainees have reengaged in jihad since being freed between January 22, 2009 and January 15, 2015. Another 10.7 percent (69 of 647) are strongly suspected of having reengaged, for a total of nearly 30 percent.
Homeland Security Today’s Editor-In-Chief Anthony Kimery reported in January 2015 that the senior members of the “Taliban Five” formerly detained at GITMO who were traded for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a very controversial exchange re-engaged with their old jihadi networks.
In June 2015, the Obama administration released another six high-risk Yemeni Al Qaeda operatives to Oman. Commenting on the controversial release, McCaul said, “The lack of a comprehensive detainee policy has led this President to make reckless decisions affecting American security. The President needs to be up front with the American people, rather than have the release of dangerous detainees buried in a Saturday news dump.”
In 2012, the Obama administration cleared for transfer former GITMO detainee Ibrahim al Qosi, a Sudanese terrorist who worked closely with Osama Bin Laden, former GITMO detainee. Qosi has emerged as the face of AQAP and a prominent fixture in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) propaganda.
Furthermore, just days ago, a former GITMO detainee was among four people arrested by Spanish and Moroccan police on suspicion of being in a jihadi cell recruiting fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. However, President Obama has justified closure of the facility by claiming that Guantanamo Bay is “one of the key magnets for jihadi recruitment.”
Shortly after the President announced his plan, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) late yesterday introduced a bill to prevent President Obama from giving the United States Naval base at Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba without proper Congressional approval.
The Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Protection Act, S. 2559, requires the President to notify Congress if he proposes to modify, terminate, abandon or transfer the lease of the land that currently contains Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. This bill also permanently prohibits the President from modifying, terminating, abandoning, or transferring the lease without the approval, by law, of Congress.
“President Obama’s aggressive push to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is dangerous,” said Senator Burr. “Recently, we learned that one of the former prisoners at Gitmo is back fighting for Al-Qaeda’s terrorist agenda. It’s clear that the threats to the United States are increasing, not decreasing, and we need every available military asset. As President Obama continues to court the Castro regime, I believe it is important that Congress makes clear that he cannot give up our base in such a strategic location.”