President Trump vowed in his first State of the Union address Tuesday to reverse Obama-era efforts to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and send new detainees there as warranted.
The day before Trump’s inauguration, the Obama administration transferred Jabran al Qahtani, an engineer captured when Pakistani authorities raided the home of accused al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, to his home country of Saudi Arabia. That left 41 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, according to the Defense Department.
On the campaign trail, Trump talked in February 2016 about wanting to keep GTMO open and “load it up with some bad dudes.”
“When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants,” Trump said Tuesday evening before a joint session of Congress. “And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are. In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was held at the Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca detention centers early in the Iraq war. Several years after his release as a low-level prisoner, the United States put a $10 million bounty on al-Baghdadi’s head as an al-Qaeda leader.
Before coming out to speak, Trump said, he signed an executive order “to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay.”
“I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them,” he said. “And in many cases, for them it will now be Guantanamo Bay.”
The announcement drew praise from many Republican lawmakers. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, stated that the U.S. “must continue to use all lawful tools, including detention of enemy combatants at GTMO, in our ongoing armed conflict against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, including ISIS.”
“Going forward, I urge the administration to capture those former GTMO detainees who have been released and resumed hostilities against the United States, and bring them to justice,” Rubio said.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, called the creation of the Guantanamo detention facility “misguided from the beginning, and its operation stands in stark contrast to our nation’s values.”
“Today, Guantanamo continues to be an international eyesore that undercuts our national security, damages our credibility with our international partners, and is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars,” Smith said. “It is past time to close it down, and President Trump’s actions are taking us in the wrong direction.”
Trump’s executive order declares “the United States may transport additional detainees to U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay when lawful and necessary to protect the Nation.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats “and the heads of any other appropriate executive departments and agencies as determined by the Secretary of Defense” have 90 days from the date of the order to “recommend policies to the president regarding the disposition of individuals captured in connection with an armed conflict, including policies governing transfer of individuals to U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay.”
“Unless charged in or subject to a judgment of conviction by a military commission, any detainees transferred to U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay after the date of this order shall be subject to the procedures for periodic review established in Executive Order 13567 of March 7, 2011 (Periodic Review of Individuals Detained at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force), to determine whether continued law of war detention is necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States,” the order adds.