Administration Fights Back on Gitmo


Republicans are ramping up efforts to keep Guantanamo Bay's detainee facility open forever, using a series of amendments to the Pentagon appropriations and Intelligence authorization bills.  The amendments range from demands for reports and certification -- which the administration is nominally OK with -- to outright prohibitions on transfers from GTMO or on opening the Thomson facility to receive some detainees.

Privately, Republican staff members have acknowledged that they simply want to keep GTMO open. Many of these same Republicans claim concerns over national security, but they were largely silent as the Bush administration moved over 500 detainees from GTMO, many of them without the more stringent pre-release review that Obama introduced.

Today, the administration fires back at what they see as a concerted effort to turn every detainee into a political wedge issue.

The National Security Adviser, James Jones, sent a letter this morning to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, and the ranking Republican, Rep. Jerry Lewis, responding to Lewis' call for an immediate halt to repatriations and the stoppage of all activity related to the closure of the prison.  APNSA Letter to Chairman Obey.pdf

It notes that the administration has been able to resettle 33 detainees to 13 different countries. It addresses the issue of recidivism and whether the intelligence community has sufficient input into the detainee transfer process, noting that all 33 third-party re-settlements were approved unanimously by all national security stakeholders. It suggests that several of those detainees are subject to restrictions (and maybe surveillance) by their host countries. It notes that the Joint Interagency Review of all detainees produced a classified report that is available to all members of Congress and provides notification and classified annexes to Congress before any detainee is transferred. From 2002 to 2008, that information was not provided to Congress.

The letter doesn't refer to what the intelligence community has concluded about recidivism, but a senior U.S. official tells me that the Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that just 11 of the entire class of 525 former detainees have returned to the battlefield in some capacity and are still at large.

The government lost another habeas corpus case yesterday on a detainee from Yemen. The Bush administration lost about 90 percent of these cases, starting in 2008; the Obama administration has done better, winning about half. That rate may drop. Even after all this time, federal courts are finding that the government doesn't always have the legal basis to hold these people. That suggests something about many of the people who are still detained, as judges have access to all of the classified evidence.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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