(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Biden will try to close Guantanamo after ‘robust’ review

Biden had said as a candidate he supported closing the detention centre

President Joe Biden will seek to close the prison on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay following a review process, resuming a project begun under the Obama administration, the White House said Friday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was the “intention” of the Biden administration to close the detention facility, something President Barack Obama pledged to do within a year shortly after he took office in January 2009.

Psaki gave no timeline, telling reporters that the formal review would be “robust” and would require the participation of officials from the Department of Defence, the Justice Department and other agencies who have not yet been appointed under the new administration.

“There are many players from different agencies who need to be part of this policy discussion about the steps forward,” she said.

Obama ran into intense domestic political opposition when he sought to close the detention centre, a notorious symbol of the U.S. fight against terrorism. Biden may have more leeway now that there are only 40 prisoners left and Guantanamo draws much less public attention, though his announcement did draw some immediate criticism.

The U.S. opened the detention centre in January 2002 to hold people suspected of ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban. It became a source of international criticism over the mistreatment of prisoners and the prolonged imprisonment of people without charge.

The announcement of the closure plan, first reported by Reuters, was not unexpected. Biden had said as a candidate he supported closing the detention centre. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said so as well in written testimony for his Senate confirmation.

“Guantanamo has provided us the capability to conduct law of war detention in order to keep our enemies off the battlefield, but I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantanamo to close,” Austin said. “My understanding is that the Biden-Harris administration does not intend to bring new detainees to the facility and will seek to close it.”

The 40 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo include five who were previously cleared for release through a intensive review process created under Obama as part of the effort to close the detention centre and transfer the remaining prisoners to U.S. facilities.

At its peak in 2003, the detention centre at the Navy base on the southeast tip of Cuba held nearly 680 prisoners. Amid the international outrage, President George W. Bush called it a “a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies” and said he supported closing it but left it to his successor.

Under Bush, the U.S. began efforts to prosecute some of the prisoners for war crimes in special tribunals known as military commissions, but the government also released 532 prisoners.

Obama vowed to close the detention centre, while keeping the larger Navy base, but ran into fierce political opposition over plans to prosecute and imprison men in the U.S. and concerns that returning others to their homeland would pose a security risk.

To some extent at least, that opposition remains. “The Democrats’ obsession with bringing terrorists into Americans’ backyards is bizarre, misguided, and dangerous,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said after the White House announcement Friday. “Just like with President Obama, Republicans will fight it tooth and nail.”

Obama argued that keeping the detention centre was not just a bad policy but a waste of money, costing more than $445 million per year in 2016.

Under his administration, 197 were repatriated or resettled in other countries.

That left 41 under Trump, who pledged at one point to “load it up” with some “bad dudes.” He never did and approved a single release, a Saudi prisoner who had reached a plea deal in his war crimes case.

Of those who remain at Guantanamo, there are 10 men facing trial by military commission. They include five men charged with planning and providing logistical support to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The case has been bogged down in pre-trial proceedings for years.

Human rights groups who have long championed the closure of Guantanamo welcomed Biden’s announcement.

“For almost two decades, the United States has denied justice to the hundreds of men the government has kept detained at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely, without charge or trial,” said Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security with Human Rights Program at Amnesty International USA. “Forty men remain there today. It is long past time to close it down.”

By Ben Fox

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

READ MORE: Canada to require negative COVID-19 test at land borders

READ MORE: Mysterious European package from dead Russian artist mailed to Port Hardy family

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

USA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Black Press file photo.
Interior Health: 6 new deaths and 67 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend

An outbreak has been declared at Kelowna General Hospital

Janet (left) and Karen Johnson. (Shelley Woods Boden/Facebook)
Petition to keep Wells Gray murderer in jail garners 39K signatures and counting

Family and friends compiling victim impact statements to keep David Ennis behind bars.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
59 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 7,131

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

UBC Okanagan students are among the most food insecure in Canada, according to a new study by UBC.
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UBC Okanagan students among most food insecure in Canada

42.3 per cent either can’t properly feed themselves, or are worried they will soon run out of money

Oliver Elementary School. (File)
Interior Health reports potential COVID-19 exposure at South Okanagan elementary school

Interior Health lists two dates for the potential exposure

Most Read