GAO: US prisons could house Gitmo detainees

Military and federal prisons in the United States could house the 166 detainees currently held in Guantánamo Bay, but there are legal and logistical complications that would require the facilities to be modified, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.

The GAO report, which was requested by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), investigated prisons run by the military and Justice Department for their viability to house Guantánamo detainees, many of whom are accused of terrorism charges.

The report found there were 98 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities that have custody of inmates charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and six Defense Department facilities that can house service members charged with crimes for more than one year.

But to equip those facilities to house Guantánamo detainees, modifications would be needed to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and to deal with legal issues housing foreign nationals.

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The GAO found that while DOD prisons are at only 48 percent capacity, federal prison facilities are overcrowded, which would present another logistical challenge to moving the detainees to U.S. facilities.

Feinstein said the report showed that U.S. prisons have the capability to hold the 166 Guantánamo detainees because they have a history of holding inmates convicted of terrorism.

“This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security,” Feinstein said in a statement after releasing the report Wednesday evening.

“The United States already holds 373 individuals convicted of terrorism in 98 facilitates across the country,” Feinstein said. “As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single security problem reported in any of these cases. This fact outweighs not only the high cost of maintaining Guantanamo — which costs more than $114 million a year — but also provides the same degree of security without the criticism of operating a military prison in an isolated location.”

The GAO report does not take a position on whether the Guantánamo Bay prison should be closed. The report notes that current laws prevent the transfer of detainees to U.S. facilities.

But the report is the latest effort by opponents in Congress to try and gain traction on one of President Obama’s biggest unfulfilled first-term promises.

Obama signed an Executive Order the first week of his term to close the Guantánamo prison, but failed to do so after running into congressional opposition to shuttering the facility that holds the suspects accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. The Obama administration restarted military tribunals at Guantánamo in the middle of his first term.

The White House has not indicated whether the president will mount another effort to close down the facility in his second term.