House Democrats call on Biden to close Guantánamo ‘once and for all’
Dozens of House Democrats are pushing President Biden to “immediately” shrink the population being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and “finally” shutter the prison.
“We share your belief that after nearly two decades and tremendous expense, it is time to close the prison and seek prompt resolutions for the cases of the remaining detainees,” the 75 lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden released Thursday.
“We ask that as you take the steps necessary to finally close the prison, you act immediately to further reduce its population, ensure that the remaining detainees are treated humanely and increase the transparency of military commission proceedings at the Guantanamo detention facility,” they added.
The letter was organized by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn). Among the co-signers are several committee chairmen, including Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meek (D-N.Y.), Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
The Biden administration has said it intends to close the infamous facility, launching a National Security Council review earlier this year to examine ways to close it.
But Biden faces the same major hurdle that stymied former President Obama’s efforts to close the prison: a ban passed by Congress on transferring Guantánamo detainees to U.S. soil.
The fiscal 2022 defense spending bill pending in the House would drop that ban. But the defense policy bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month would maintain it. Though Democrats control both chambers of Congress, slim majorities will make it difficult to end the ban.
In the meantime, the Biden administration last month repatriated a detainee to Morocco and said it will look to transfer all those who are eligible.
Of the 39 detainees still at Guantánamo, 10 have been cleared for transfer, pending security agreements with the countries taking them in.
In their letter, the Democratic lawmakers urged Biden to “prioritize further reducing the prison’s population” by transferring out those 10 and reestablishing the office at the State Department that was in charge of negotiating transfers with other countries.
“We recognize that closing the prison will take time, but we believe the time has come with your leadership,” they wrote. “We believe that some detainees can and should be tried in our federal courts, which have demonstrated they can effectively, fairly, and quickly try terrorism cases. Other detainees should be repatriated to their home countries or settled in third countries with appropriate conditions and assurances for both their treatment and U.S. security.”
The lawmakers also told Biden they “stand ready to work with you to remove impediments to closure.”
“The prison at Guantanamo represents a fundamental betrayal of our values and our commitment as a country to the rule of law,” they wrote. “You have our full support in your efforts to close the prison once and for all.”