While President Barack Obama has promised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison complex in Cuba, the US Secretary of Defense suggested there might be no alternative to detaining inmates anywhere else.
During a livestream event with military personnel worldwide on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was asked by a petty office about Guantanamo Bay. Carter said the problem with closing the prison was that “some of the detainees have to be detained indefinitely.”
“My view is that it would be good, if possible, to close Guantanamo Bay, if it can be done safely. The reason I say that is that it ends up being part of Jihadi recruitment, and I would just as soon not leave that for a future president,” Carter said during the event, titled “Worldwide Troop Talk.”
“Maybe half, under conditions that are safe, we may be able to transfer them,” Carter said. “There’s another half of them who are not safe to release, period.”
The US is still holding 116 people at Guantanamo Bay. Fifty-two are cleared for release but host countries that would accept them as residents have yet to be found. Others are waiting on military tribunals.
Carter said that if the detainees are not locked up in Guantanamo Bay, they need to be locked up somewhere, and the Obama administration is looking at prisons in within the US “to which these people can be moved.”
“We’ll try to come up with a plan and work with Congress to see if we can do that or not,” he said.
“It would be a nice thing to do, and an important thing to do,” Carter added. “But we have to be realistic about the people in Guantanamo Bay. They are there for a reason.”
Even if the prison is gone, Carter said the Pentagon would keep the base in Guantanamo because of its strategic location, and “I don’t see us changing that.”
Recent analysis by the Guardian showed American military forces only captured three out of the 116 prisoners left at the prison complex, and many of those left were sold to the US for monetary rewards.
According to the analysis, 68 of the remaining detainees were caught by Pakistani security forces or informants linked to them, while 30 were captured primarily by Afghan warlords.
“The United States was offering very significant bounties – anywhere between $5,000 to sometimes $15,000 per Arab man that was captured in the general vicinity of the Afghan-Pakistani border,” City University of New York professor Ramzi Kassem, who also represents some of the detainees, told RT. “Most of the men at Guantanamo were not captured by the United States and they were not even captured in Afghanistan.”
Besides the fact that US troops paid Afghan warlords and Pakistanis to turn over combatants in the region of Tora Bora, details concerning the prisoners’ origins raise questions about the motivations of those who captured them, and whether the detainees are really as dangerous as claimed.
Separately on Monday, a spokesman for the Department of Defense told the Miami Herald that a survey team tasked by Carter to study potential relocation sites would visit the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday and Thursday. The team earlier surveyed the Army’s prison at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas.
The governors of Kansas and South Carolina are opposed to moving Guantanamo inmates to federal facilities in their states.
Additionally, a Defense official has reportedly told the Miami Herald that the Pentagon was considering starting from scratch to build a “Guantanamo North” facility.
Shuttering the detention facility has been a top priority for President Obama since his 2008 campaign. He drafted an executive order calling for its closure, and has repeatedly said the prison’s presence serves as a recruiting tool for enemies of the US and is too expensive
Two years ago, Senator Dick Durbin, (D-Illinois) calculated that the cost of housing a detainee at Guantanamo for a year was $2.7 million per inmate, whereas in a US federal prison the cost dropped to $72,000 a year per inmate.