On Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee held a hearing to examine state and local perspectives on the impact of transferring Guantanamo detainees to the homeland following the release of the Administration’s February 2016 plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Under the plan, some detainees will be transferred to US soil. Specific locations have not been identified.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, President Obama said leaving the facility open is “contrary to the nation’s values” and “undermines our standing in the world. However, the move faces major opposition from state and local officials concerned about their communities becoming terrorist targets.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), Chairman of the Subcommittee, strongly denounced the plan. Perry explained that the Obama Administration has not consulted with state and local law enforcement in making the decision to move the detainees to US facilities.
“The American people do not want GITMO terrorists detained in their communities, their neighborhoods, or down the street from their children’s school,” Perry stated. “Fortunately, Congress passed legislation that prohibits transferring GITMO detainees to the homeland – and the President signed it. However, he’s still moving forward with his legacy-driven agenda which includes closing Guantanamo – despite the will of the American people.”
Last month, for example, the Major County Sheriff’s Association sent a letter to the president to express their opposition to the plan. The letter states, “Detainees, deemed too dangerous to release, should not be brought to the homeland where they will pose a threat to the local communities we serve.”
Perry noted that although the president touts the millions of dollars that could be saved by closing the facility, cash-strapped states and localities will be the ones footing the bill for the enhanced security measures necessary to protect their communities.
“Consider the propaganda value for ISIS if it successfully sprang a hardened Gitmo terrorist on American soil,” Perry said. “Anyone who thinks this is impossible is suffering from, as the 9/11 Commission put it, ‘a failure of imagination.’”
In addition to security concerns, the transfer of the detainees raises several legal questions, including whether these terrorists could be eligible for certain forms of relief from removal, release from immigration detention, or constitutional rights.
Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) has also been a vocal opponent of the plan, especially in light of recent proposals to bring suspected terrorists to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, SC. Haley said moving the detainees from a facility outside of the US to South Carolina will not stop terrorist propaganda—terrorists will hate the US with or without Guantanamo bay.
“This line of thinking is giving these terrorists too much credit and validity,” Haley told the Subcommittee. “Terrorists do not need a jail to hate us. They hate us all on their own.”
Haley continued, “Whetherthe terrorists are detained on an American military base in Cuba or somewhere in the United States, they will be held under the same legal authority, by the same country, in the same manner, for the same duration, and for the same reasons. Why does the zip code matter from a foreign relations standpoint?”
The lawmakers expressed concerns that US facilities holding former GITMO detainees could become a magnet for lone wolves, and other radical Islamist extremists may be inspired to perform jihad in the homeland.
These concerns are not unfounded. Last year, a report from the Director of National Intelligence, 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.
Former GITMO detainees who have re-emerged engaging in jihad have included Ibrahim al Qosi, a Sudanese terrorist who worked closely with Osama Bin Laden; the senior members of the “Taliban Five” who were traded for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl; and six high-risk Yemeni Al Qaeda operatives.
However, Ken Gude, Senior Fellow Center for American Progress, told the panel that the United States can handle the transfer of the detainees safely and securely, with little threat to local communities. He explained that closing the facility should be a national security imperative given the “anti-American” message perpetuated by the existence of the GITMO, which has become “a symbol of lawlessness, torture, and abuse.”
In fact, Gude noted that transfer of GITMO detainees to the US has already happened. Yassir Hamdi was transferred from Guantanamo in April 2002, first to the Naval Station at Norfolk, Virginia and then to the Consolidated Naval Brig at the Charleston Naval Base. Hamdi remained in the Brig in Charleston for two and a half years before he was repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
In another case, Ahmed Ghailani, who arrived in GITMO in 2006 after being indicted in December 1998 for his role in the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa, was transferred to New York in June 2009. Ghailani went on trial in New York City in 2010 for his role in the embassy bombings, and was convicted of conspiracy in the attacks and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to the federal penitentiary at Florence, CO, also known as Supermax, in June 2011 where he has been for nearly five years.
There are also numerous examples of high-profile terrorists in US prisons. Ghailani’s co-conspirators, who were convicted in 2001 for their roles in the 1998 embassy bombings, are at the Supermax. The man who first tried to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993, Ramzi Youssef, and his co-conspirators, have all been serving multiple life sentences in Supermax since their 1997 conviction in a New York City court.
“American federal prisons and military detention facilities have held and currently hold some of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known,” Gude said. “This is a testament to the success of our law enforcement and national security officials in keeping Americans safe, not an indication of an unacceptable level of threat affecting Americans on a daily basis.”
“I am confident that the American criminal justice system and US military detention facilities can safely and securely imprison any Guantanamo detainees that are sent to US soil,” Gude concluded.