Whither Guantanamo Prisoners?

Pentagon officials are scouting U.S. locations to potentially house detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

"No photography" signs are posted on the fence surrounding Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. (Bob Strong / Reuters)

Pentagon officials are in Colorado this week to scope out potential sites to house prisoners at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, the Associated Press reported Monday.

A team of officials will evaluate the state penitentiary in Canon City and the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, which has been dubbed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” according to the AP. Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander Gary Ross called the visits “informational.” The Pentagon previously looked at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

The scouting is part of the Obama administration’s plan to close the military prison in Cuba, which houses detainees captured in the war on terrorism. It’s an attempt to answer the big question surrounding the potential closure of Guantanamo: Where? Where should the prisoners—half of whom are no longer considered a security threat and have been cleared for release—go?

President Obama has vowed to shut down the facility since he was first elected; he issued an executive order calling for the prison to be closed within a year during his first month in office. That deadline came and went, and the White House’s proposed road to shutting down the prison has been rocky since. In December 2009, Obama signed a presidential memorandum ordering then-Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to acquire an Illinois state prison as a replacement for Guantanamo. In May 2010, Congress blocked funding for that prison, and banned the use of federal funds for the transfer of prisoners to American soil. In Janu­ary 2013, the State De­part­ment closed the of­fice responsible for hand­ling the clos­ure of Guantanamo. Polling shows most Americans say the U.S. shouldn’t close the detention center.

But the U.S. has slowly transferred some of the detainees at Guantanamo to their home countries—or other countries that will take them. According to a New York Times database, 55 countries have accepted Guantanamo detainees; most have gone to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Six detainees were transferred to Oman in June, and one detainee, whom U.S. officials say was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, was repatriated to Morocco last month. The Obama administration is avoiding Yemen, where most of the detainees are from, citing the tenuous security situation there.  As my colleague David Graham wrote last month after the latest transfer, “one sticking point has been recidivism: How likely are former prisoners at Guantanamo to return to the field as terrorists? There’s disagreement, with Republicans saying it’s as high as 30 percent of the 620 released detainees. The administration’s estimate is much lower.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has acknowledged the difficulty of transferring the prisoners, saying last month: “If they’re detained at Guantanamo Bay, fine. I would prefer to find a different place for them.”

He then added: “But we have to be realistic about the people who are in Guantanamo Bay. They’re there for a reason.”

The current prisoner population of Guantanamo Bay is 114.