Where Might Remaining Guantanamo Detainees Be Sent If The Camp Closes?

George Lavender March 4, 2016

If the sun finally sets on Guantanamo, where might the remaining detainees be sent?

Keep­ing his cam­paign promise to close Guan­tanamo Bay deten­tion camp has so far elud­ed Pres­i­dent Obama.

Ques­tions about the legal­i­ty of detain­ing for­eign nation­als with­out tri­al, as well as accu­sa­tions of tor­ture at the site have dogged the deten­tion facil­i­ty since the first pris­on­ers arrived in 2002. There are now less than 100 detainees remain­ing at Guan­tanamo. This Feb­ru­ary the Depart­ment of Defense sent Con­gress a new plan to close the camp. Under the plan, detainees cleared for trans­fer to oth­er coun­tries will con­tin­ue to be moved out of Guan­tanamo and the remain­ing detainees will be trans­ferred to the US. The small num­ber that have been con­vict­ed under the con­tro­ver­sial mil­i­tary tri­bunal sys­tem would serve their sen­tences here, oth­ers would be charged and tried in either mil­i­tary or civil­ian courts. The remain­der would con­tin­ue to be held with­out charge under law-of-war detention.

But there’s a major obsta­cle to this plan: Congress.

Con­gress has repeat­ed­ly passed leg­is­la­tion that pre­vents the use of fed­er­al funds to trans­fer detainees to the US. Nation­al and local politi­cians opposed to the trans­fers say that bring­ing detainees sus­pect­ed of ter­ror­ism to the US will put Amer­i­cans at risk. Advo­cates for clos­ing Guan­tanamo point out that there are already 349 peo­ple con­vict­ed of ter­ror­ism serv­ing sen­tences in the US.

If, and that’s a big if,” detainees were ever brought to the US, where would they be held? The new plan does not name spe­cif­ic facil­i­ties, but in the past a num­ber of exist­ing pris­ons have been sug­gest­ed, and a team from the Pen­ta­gon recent­ly vis­it­ed sev­er­al oth­er sites. Here are the pris­ons that are report­ed­ly being assessed, or have pre­vi­ous­ly been con­sid­ered for detainees.

Mid­west Joint Region­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty, Fort Leavenworth

List­ed in a Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office (GAO) report as a pos­si­ble facil­i­ty to hold Guan­tanamo detainees, the Mid­west Joint Region­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty is one of three fed­er­al pris­ons at Leav­en­worth. Robert Bales, the US Army sol­dier found guilty of killing 16 Afghan civil­ians in what became known as the Kan­da­har Mas­sacre, was held here and also at the North East Joint Region­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty (NEJR­CF) in Wash­ing­ton before his tri­al. The NEJR­CF was also list­ed in the GAO report. 

US Dis­ci­pli­nary Bar­racks, Fort Leavenworth

The US Dis­ci­pli­nary Bar­racks first opened in 1874 and was rebuilt in 2002. It’s the military’s only max­i­mum secu­ri­ty facil­i­ty for court mar­tialed male offi­cers and is also the site of the mil­i­tary death row. It has fre­quent­ly been pro­posed as a pos­si­ble loca­tion for Guan­tanamo detainees, but faces local polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion. Kansas Gov­er­nor Sam Brown­back, togeth­er with the Gov­er­nor of South Car­oli­na, Nik­ki Haley, wrote to the Defense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter, oppos­ing any trans­fer of detainees to his state. Their let­ter called those in Guan­tanamo among the most dead­ly ter­ror­ists in his­to­ry” and con­clud­ed please know we will take any action with­in our pow­er to make sure no Guan­tanamo Bay detainees are trans­ferred to South Car­oli­na and Kansas.” 

Naval Con­sol­i­dat­ed Brig, Charleston

The Naval Brig at Charleston has already been used to hold ter­ror­ist sus­pects. Jose Padil­la, a US cit­i­zen des­ig­nat­ed an ene­my com­bat­ant” was held for three and a half years with­out tri­al here before being tried in a fed­er­al court and con­vict­ed of con­spir­a­cy. He is cur­rent­ly serv­ing his sen­tence at ADX Flo­rence, the only super-max­i­mum secu­ri­ty prison run by the Bureau of Pris­ons, which holds sev­er­al pris­on­ers con­vict­ed of ter­ror­ism. The GAO report also point­ed to the Naval Con­sol­i­dat­ed Brigs in Chesa­peake and Mira­mar as pos­si­ble loca­tions for Guan­tanamo detainees.

Fed­er­al Cor­rec­tion­al Insti­tute, Florence

Along with Cen­ten­ni­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty, FCI Flo­rence is one of the Col­orado pris­ons the Pen­ta­gon team assess­ing alter­na­tives to Guan­tanamo planned to vis­it. FCI Flo­rence is nextdoor to ADX Flo­rence. Both FCI Flo­rence and Cen­ten­ni­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty are in Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Doug Lamborn’s ® dis­trict. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Lam­born voiced his oppo­si­tion to the Pen­ta­gon even con­sid­er­ing the two pris­ons say­ing The peo­ple of Col­orado do not want the world’s worst ter­ror­ists housed in our own back­yard and we will not stand for this” he went on to say he would do every­thing in my pow­er to resist these unlaw­ful ter­ror­ist trans­fers from tak­ing place.” Gov­er­nor John Hick­en­loop­er (D) sound­ed a more con­cil­ia­to­ry note, his spokesper­son said The gov­er­nor, like the Pen­ta­gon, wants to have a full under­stand­ing of the costs, risk and impacts for Colorado.”

Cen­ten­ni­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty, Cañon City

Colorado’s Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions opened Cen­ten­ni­al Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty in 2010 and closed it just two years lat­er, due to a lack of pris­on­ers. Designed with 948 iso­la­tion cells, the prison was intend­ed to hold pris­on­ers in soli­tary con­fine­ment but the state’s reduc­tion in use of soli­tary meant that the $208 mil­lion prison was used only briefly and now sits empty. 

AUSP Thom­son

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment pur­chased the state-of-the-art, max­i­mum-secu­ri­ty prison” from the State of Illi­nois in 2012 for $165 mil­lion. It had been tout­ed as a pos­si­ble site for detainees, but by the time the gov­ern­ment took own­er­ship of the prison, Con­gress had already blocked the use of fed­er­al funds to trans­fer Guan­tanamo pris­on­ers to the US.

Even if Con­gress agreed to allow the trans­fer of detainees to one or more of these facil­i­ties some advo­cates, such as the ACLU, have raised con­cerns that seri­ous issues with the deten­tion and treat­ment of ter­ror­ism sus­pects would remain.

Import­ing indef­i­nite deten­tion and unfair mil­i­tary com­mis­sions would just cre­ate Guan­tá­namo North” on Amer­i­can soil, entrench­ing the prison’s blight on our nation’s core val­ues and the rule of law. And it will per­pet­u­ate, and pos­si­bly wors­en, the agony of men denied an end to their plight. Con­tin­ue reading… 

With the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship in Con­gress pub­licly opposed to any trans­fer of detainees a deal to move them to the US seems unlikely. 
George Laven­der is an award-win­ning radio and print jour­nal­ist based in Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @GeorgeLavender.
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