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GAO: Lots of Places to Hold Gitmo Prisoners

A new GAO report finds that there are 104 prison facilities where those still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay could be moved with no real risk to anyone’s security. My former colleague Spencer Ackerman has some of the details:

As Danger Room first reported last month, Feinstein asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into the practicalities of where to house Guantanamo’s detainee population. Its findings, released late Wednesday: The Justice Department operates 98 prisons suitable for holding individuals convicted on terrorism charges; and the military runs six more. But the report also makes clear that it’s not as simple as moving the detainees from one holding facility to another: Not only would the law have to change, but non-terrorism prisoners would likely have to be moved, and the federal prisons are already seriously overcrowded.

“This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security,” Feinstein said in a prepared statement. “The United States already holds 373 individuals convicted of terrorism in 98 facilitates across the country. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single security problem reported in any of these cases.”

The GAO study Feinstein requested is rigorously agnostic on whether Guantanamo ought to be closed. Accordingly, it doesn’t make any recommendations. And the numerous operational difficulties it highlights for imprisoning the remaining 166 Guantanamo detainees in federal or military prisons show it’s not just a matter of pure political will.

Still, the study points to the inherent physical similarities between Guantanamo and federal prisons. Camp Six, for instance, the newest detention center and the one holding some two-thirds of the remaining Gitmo population, is “designed after the layout of a U.S. county jail, and it consists of eight indoor climate-controlled, two-story housing units that each contain 22 individual cells and one large common area.” Nor is Guantanamo a hub for intelligence anymore: Since the facility hasn’t admitted a new detainee since 2006 2007, whatever residual intelligence operations happen at Guantanamo are to “help ensure the safety and security of the detention facilities and personnel.”

This has always been about political will alone. Several years ago, a Michigan facility that was ideal for holding those prisoners was ruled out when Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation and outraged state officials threw a temper tantrum about it, scaring people with visions of escaped Muslim extremists beheading sweet grandmothers and eating Christian babies. It’s pure demagoguery, which is the only thing preventing this from happening.

Comments

  1. says

    My cynicism briefly moves me to an additional hypothesis that some of the politicians are worried about abuses being exposed in a more viewable setting, but then I remember that we’ve already got all sorts of prison abuse going on right now and relatively few people who care.

  2. flex says

    Hell,

    Remove the prisoners, close Gitmo, recognize the sovereignty of the government of Cuba, and give Gitmo to Cuba.

    We don’t need relics of American imperialism from more than a century ago any more than we need to maintain a cold war enmity with a insignificant nation.

  3. Ben P says

    I thought Gitmo was always the public face anyway. What happened to the black sites?

    Gitmo is effectively a POW camp for medium or medium high terrorists who had some value, but who were captured in circumstances that made other options inconvenient.

    While this is pure speculation, I don’t think any of the black sites operated as really long term confinement facilities. Rather, they were the type of place new captures got taken to be interrogated (and possibly tortured) to find out what they knew *right this second.* This isn’t excusing torture in any way because it has the potential just to bring up false material, but if you want to know where the Taliban safe house is, that kind of intelligence becomes semi-useless 72 or 96 hours later.

    The really low value guys (i.e. some schmuck with an AK) got turned back to the Iraqis or Afghanis without a second thought to go to their own prisons. Some high value guys who had political importance were handled this way as well.

    The guys that ended up in Gitmo were the leftovers.

  4. Ben P says

    Hell,

    Remove the prisoners, close Gitmo, recognize the sovereignty of the government of Cuba, and give Gitmo to Cuba.

    We don’t need relics of American imperialism from more than a century ago any more than we need to maintain a cold war enmity with a insignificant nation.

    If you’re talking about enmity with Cuba, Gitmo is 3 or 4 spots down the line of things you change. You want to affect real change in Cuba, end the trade embargo. The flood of American ideas and American money would change Cuba faster than anything the government could affirmatively do.

  5. Larry says

    If they do that, where’s Obama’s FEMA going to put all the teabaggers and christians, huh?

  6. Olav says

    There is no reason to hold these people or transfer them to other prisons. Release them already.

  7. =8)-DX says

    There is no reason to hold these people or transfer them to other prisons. Release them already.

    No, first try them in a military or civil court, THEN release them. There’s such a thing as international law, that’s not just “what the US says”.

  8. Jordan Genso says

    And this is why I never understood those on the left who criticized President Obama about Guantanamo still being open, when I don’t see a feasible way for him to overcome the obstruction in Congress.

  9. jws1 says

    The cowards in society posing as fierce defenders of freedom need to face the facts: If 12 New Yorkers find that so-and-so is not guilty of terrorism, then they are just gonna have accept that so-and-so is not guilty.

  10. Olav says

    Jordan Genso, #11:

    And this is why I never understood those on the left who criticized President Obama about Guantanamo still being open, when I don’t see a feasible way for him to overcome the obstruction in Congress.

    We don’t see him making any sort of honest attempt, either.

  11. davem says

    What flex and Ben P said.

    Plus: All the UK detainees have been repatriated, and guess what? After interviewing them they were set free. As in not found to be guilty one iota. And the result to UK security? Nada.

  12. Jordan Genso says

    Olav, in response to me:

    We don’t see [President Obama] making any sort of honest attempt, either.

    I think he made an “honest” attempt during his first 100 days (I used scarequotes because obviously that is a subjective statement), but it became clear the politics wouldn’t allow him a victory on it. So at that point, it became a situation where the more effort he puts into it, the more he loses.

    If the outcome stays the same (Gitmo staying open) no matter what the President does, then him fighting a losing battle to close it hurts him politically. While I would want him to take on quixotic battles like that in a perfect world, we don’t live in that world, and so instead I can’t fault him for adopting a different strategy.

  13. Ben P says

    There is no reason to hold these people or transfer them to other prisons. Release them already.

    The Gitmo prisoners are effectively POW’s. What the majority of them are guilty of is fighting for the other side in a war with the US.

    However, the reason the US government doesn’t call them that is precisely behind what you say.

    International law explicitly allows for POW’s, but it provides that if you hold POW’s, they have to be repatriated “within a reasonable period following the cessation of hostilities” or some such.

    In the case of Germany and Japan that was actually 2+ years before we released the last of the POW’s, although the bulk were released within 6 months.

    In the case of the “War on Terror” asking whether the detainees are POW’s, forces us to ask the awkward question of “when does the war on terror end?” And “if it does end, how do we release terrorists.”

    Importantly, there is nothing within the Geneva Conventions that says POW’s can’t separately be tried for war crimes, see e.g. Nuremberg. But war crimes are something separate and distinct from simply fighting for the other side.

  14. slc1 says

    Re Ben P. @ #16

    Colonel General Heinz Guderian was held until 1948, some three years after the surrender of Germany. Of course, he was considered a high value prisoner and was being investigated for possible war crimes in the interval.

  15. Rip Steakface says

    Obama signed an executive order on his second day in office to close Gitmo. Congress has refused to appropriate funds to do so, so it remains open.

  16. Olav says

    Rip, #18, oh my Goodness. He signed an order. Well, what more can we ask from the man who holds the most powerful office in the world.

    Did he at least use a fountain pen to make it look presidential?

  17. says

    Olav:

    I think, for all of the reasons listed by others, that Obama had no chance of getting Gitmo closed. His executive order cost him support amongst his own party (and that lack of loyalty is also what torpedoed the singlepayer healthcare initiative and some some others), he never, afaia, rescinded the order.

  18. Olav says

    Democommie #20, I really don’t get it. I mean, why are otherwise reasonable people like yourself apologising for this useless president of yours?

    “Obama had no chance of getting Gitmo closed”, you say. Well, if only he had fought for it, we had known. Sure he would have been hurt politically, but at least he could perhaps have achieved something. Of course it would require a bit more activism on his part than just “signing an order” and then “not rescinding the order”.

    Here is another writer who appears to feel like I do. Can’t help but feel everyone should read it: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/04/dear_barack_stop_terrorizing_the_planet/

  19. Jordan Genso says

    Olav, what is it that you are saying? Are you suggesting that if the President had just fought harder for it, the Republicans would’ve given in and allowed Guantanamo to close? Because it’s not unreasonable for someone who has been paying attention to claim that there is no positive correlation between the President fighting harder for a policy and that policy passing. If anything, the President’s level of support for a policy has a negative correlation to the Republicans being willing to go along with it.

  20. Olav says

    Jordan #22, off the top of my head I can imagine several ways in which the president could have tried to be more effective.

    One of them involves him jumping on a plane, letting himself be filmed on Guantanamo Bay while telling the public: this can’t go on this way, call your senator/representative.

    In other words he could have campaigned for it. He is supposed to be good at that sort of thing.

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