It’s been 14 years since the prison at the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, opened, and little has changed. The first 20 detainees were sent to Guantánamo on January 11, 2002. Since then, Guantánamo has held 779 detainees. Currently, there are 91 detainees remaining in Guantánamo and 34 cleared for release. While the Obama administration has increased the pace of releasing Guantánamo detainees, the policy of indefinite detention remains.
Pentagon officials have played a major role in thwarting detainee releases from Guantánamo. These releases are determined by Periodic Review Boards. Established by President Obama’s Executive Order 13567 on March 7, 2011, the boards are composed of representatives from different intelligence agencies that decide whether an individual detainee is safe to release or transfer, or if they should continue to be detained. After a detainee is cleared for release, the president’s administration searches for countries willing to take in released Guantánamo detainees or rehabilitate them. This is the point where the Pentagon has stepped in to stall releases.
According to a Reuters special report, “To slow prisoner transfers, Pentagon officials have refused to provide photographs, complete medical records and other basic documentation to foreign governments willing to take detainees.” In addition, “They have made it increasingly difficult for foreign delegations to visit Guantánamo, limited the time foreign officials can interview detainees and barred delegations from spending the night at Guantánamo.”
On CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pushed back against the accusations, saying he wants to see Guantánamo closed, but “there are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government no matter how much we trust that government. I can’t assure the president that it would be safe to do that.”
In terms of the detainees who are being released, where are they going? The answer varies, particularly when it comes to Yemeni detainees: Current US law prohibits detainee transfers to Yemen because of the country’s security situation – made worse by Saudi Arabia’s air war, which is backed by the United States. The conflict has killed approximately 2,800 civilians and further destabilized the country. Congress has also forbidden transferring Guantánamo detainees to US soil.