Trump signs order keeping Guantanamo prison open
During his State of the Union speech, President Donald Trump highlighted that he kept his promise to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Trump appeared to suggest that more prisoners could be sent to the prison in the future.
"I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and al-Qa'ida, we continue to have all the necessary power to detain terrorists -- wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them, and in many cases for them it will now be Guantanamo Bay," he said.
The day of the speech, Trump signed an executive order that states that within 90 days, the heads of federal agencies and departments will recommend policies to Trump "regarding the disposition of individuals captured in connection with an armed conflict, including policies governing transfer of individuals" to Gitmo.
The total number of detainees is now 41. The Miami Herald reported that review panels have cleared five for release to countries through agreements negotiated by the United States, but the State Department has shut down its office that handles those negotiations.
Trump's order leaves open the possibility that additional detainees could be released, stating "nothing in this order shall prevent the Secretary of Defense from transferring any individual" away from the prison.
We gave Trump a Promise Kept in 2017 when he sought additional funding for the prison. His executive order solidifies that goal and keeps it at Promise Kept.
White House executive order signed by President Donald Trump, "Presidential Executive Order on Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists," Jan. 30, 2018
Miami Herald, "Trump revokes order to close Guantánamo prison, declares it open for new captives," Jan. 30, 2018
Politico, "Trump orders Guantanamo prison to remain open," Jan. 31, 2018
Trump committed to keeping Gitmo open
President Donald Trump, bolstered by political tailwinds, has delivered on a campaign promise to keep open the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In stark contrast to his predecessor's attempt to phase out the controversial facility, the Trump administration has sought to restore its place in U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
The bill would provide $115 million to build new military barracks for U.S. troops stationed at the base. It also contains language that would shield the detention camp from closure and prevent the transfer of detainees to the United States.
Whatever the bill's fate, Trump's request for additional support for the military prison demonstrates his commitment to a campaign vow to continue operations there.
Acting Pentagon comptroller John Roth said of Trump's funding request: "It doesn't seem like we are going to close it anytime soon."
Trump also suggested during the campaign that he would increase the number of detainees held there, saying on Feb. 24, 2016, "We're going to load it up with bad dudes."
While Trump has not sent additional detainees to Cuba, his top lawyer has kept that possibility alive since the administration took office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an interview that he sees "no legal problem whatsoever" with increasing the ranks of detainees housed at Guantanamo Bay, which stands at 41.
"I've been there a number of times as a senator, and it's just a very fine place for holding these kind of dangerous criminals," Sessions told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on March 9. "We've spent a lot of money fixing it up, and I'm inclined to the view that it remains a perfectly acceptable place."
Trump's dedication to the survival of the military prison is the reverse mirror image of the approach taken by former President Barack Obama, who likened the camp's existence to a moral stain and vowed to see it shuttered.
While Obama fell short of his promise to close the facility, he sharply reduced its population from the 242 detainees housed there when he first took office.
As Obama's term came to a close, Trump made clear his displeasure over his predecessor's winnowing of the camp's population.
"There should be no further releases from Gitmo," Trump tweeted on Jan. 3. "These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield."
Yet Obama scrambled in January to transfer 18 additional detainees from the facility, including three prisoners sent to the United Arab Emirates on the eve of Trump's inauguration, bringing the total number of detainees to 41.
The majority, 26, are being held without charges, according to the New York Times. Three have been convicted in military commissions, while seven others currently face charges. Five detainees have been recommended for transfer.
We'll be watching Trump's pledge to keep Guantanamo open throughout the rest of his presidency. As of now, we rate this Promise Kept.
Keep Guantanamo Bay Detention Center open
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to keep the prison for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, open.
"We're going to keep, as you know, Gitmo, we're keeping that open," Trump said at his Nevada caucus victory speech on Feb. 24, 2016. "We're going to load it up with bad dudes. We're going load it up with a lot of bad dudes out there."
Barack Obama tried to close Guantanamo Bay prison multiple times throughout his tenure, but was unable to do so because of Republican pushback. Keeping Guantanamo open won't require any further actions, but Trump wants to expand its use while cutting costs.
WHY HE'S PROMISING IT
Trump said he wants to keep the prison to detain radical Islamic terrorists.
In response to the attacks on 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gave George W. Bush authority to use any force against those who "planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks."
Because of this, many detainees captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere were sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camps. Over 700 detainees have been held there since its opening in 2002. At its peak in June 2003, the prison held 684 detainees.
Guantanamo to this day remains open. As of January 16, 2017, there are approximately 45 captives from 13 or fewer different countries being held there.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST
In 2015, it cost $445 million to operate the prison, according to an analysis by Human Rights First, an advocacy group that opposes the prison.
But Trump thinks he can lower the cost. In a February 2016 speech, Trump told supporters that he could maintain the prison for anywhere between $3 million to $5 million. He has also suggested giving Cuba the reins to the prison and having them reimburse the United States.
Obama's administration said it could operate the facility in America for $65 million to $85 million less than the $445 million figure.
WHAT'S STANDING IN HIS WAY
Given that Guantanamo is open, there's little Trump would have to do to in order to keep it operating.
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, said that the more interesting question is whether Trump will expand the scope of Guantanamo by sending more detainees or by reinvigorating the military commissions.
He said no new detainees have been sent there since 2008 and that the military commissions are only prosecuting three cases.
"Whether it will stay that way, or whether President Trump will again make these principal options in U.S. counterterrorism policy, is an enormous (and generally understudied) issue," Vladeck said.
Trump has spoken about expanding the type of practices at Guantanamo, including waterboarding.
Human activist groups believe the prison is inhumane and that some practices could be considered torture. Those groups also believe the prison is against human rights because detainees are rarely proven guilty before being held there.