Administration speeds up review boards for Guantánamo detainees

Administration speeds up review boards for Guantánamo detainees
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The Obama administration has quietly been speeding up the pace of review boards for Guantánamo Bay detainees in an attempt to whittle down the number of prisoners. 

Since mid-April, the Pentagon has scheduled about two review boards per week through the end of May, up from about two to three per month earlier this year.  

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So far, the number of review boards scheduled and conducted for 2016 is 21, almost double the 12 conducted in 2015. Two more reviews are planned but don't have dates scheduled.  

"All initial hearings are planned to be completed in the fall," said Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.

A board on Tuesday reviewed the case of 48-year-old Guantánamo detainee Bostan Karim, a suspected al Qaeda operative in charge of a group that produced bombs in Afghanistan. 

The Hill attended via video conference from the Pentagon the unclassified portion of the review board, which featured the detainee, a linguist, and two service members acting as personal representatives for Karim sitting at a table in a room at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. 

During the review board, the personal representatives read statements highlighting Karim's desire to return to Afghanistan to be with his family and said he has been well-behaved while in detention.

"Karim is one of the older detainees in Guantánamo Bay. He is over 48 years old and only wants to return home to enjoy his family in peace during the years he has left," one of the representatives said. "We remain convinced that Karim does not pose a significant threat to the security of the United States or any of its allies." 

Afterward, participants read a summary about Karim that stated that he was "probably the leader" of a bomb-making group and that he "probably planned, directed, or conducted multiple attacks against coalition forces." 

The summary also said that although Karim has not expressed any intent to reengage in extremist activity or espoused any anti-US sentiment, several members of his cell, who are former detainees, have reengaged in extremist activity, including a nephew who is close to him and could provide him opportunities to reengage. 

The board then proceeded to the classified portion of the review, which media and members of the public are not allowed to attend. Members of the board will take about a month to decide whether Karim should be transferred out of the facility.  

It is the first of nine more such boards scheduled for this month. 

Currently, there are 41 Guantánamo detainees who are designated for indefinite detention of 80 detainees left in total. The boards have determined that 29 of the 41 do not need to be detained. The administration hopes to get the number of those left as low as possible in order to make the case for bringing them to the U.S. and shutting down the facility. 

These reviews, known as periodic review boards, are part of a process created by a presidential executive order on March 7, 2011.

In order for a detainee to be transferred from the facility, a senior official from six agencies must reach consensus.

The agencies include the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The boards do not render judgment on whether the detainee is guilty of engaging in terrorism but only whether his detention is necessary to protect against a "continuing significant threat" to the security of the U.S. 

The administration unveiled a plan earlier this year to continue to transfer detainees deemed eligible for release, and continue to review those who are not deemed eligible for release. The administration would then bring the expected 30 to 60 detainees remaining to a facility in the U.S. 

The administration argues the prison's existence fuels anti-U.S. propaganda and that maintaining the facility is costly for taxpayers. 

According to Human Rights First, keeping the prison open at $445 million per year for 80 detainees amounts to $5.5 million per detainee. 

The continued transfers from the facility in Cuba have particularly outraged Republican members of Congress, who argue the facility should not be closed and that the administration's plan is dangerous. U.S. intelligence officials have found that about 30 percent of former detainees have reengaged or are suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities. 

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning voted to renew in 2017 restrictions on closing the facility in an annual defense authorization bill.  

The bill would prohibit bringing any detainees to the U.S., or the construction or modification of facilities in the U.S. to house the detainees. A Pentagon team has reviewed sites in Kansas, Colorado and South Carolina. Republicans have vowed to fight the plan. 

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) denounced the plan last week during a House hearing. 

“Moving detention operations from a secure facility outside of the continental United States and into Charleston, South Carolina will not stop the propaganda," she said. "This line of thinking is giving these terrorists too much credit and validity. Terrorists do not need a jail to hate us. They hate us all on their own.”

“Whether the 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?” she added.