In the past 14 years, close to 800 prisoners have beenhoused at Guantanamo Bay (also known as GTMO). Currently, 61 prisoners remain in custody. President Obama has vowed to close the detention center. A discussion with Chris Anders of the ACLU.
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Traynham: In the past 14 years, close to 800 prisoners have been housed at Guantanamo Bay. Currently, 61 prisoners remain in custody. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham, and joining me is Chris Anders. He's the Deputy Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, or the ACLU. Chris, welcome to the program.
Anders: Thank you for having me.
Traynham: I think we should put some context to this. This was -- or this is a prison that is in Cuba, in the Guantanamo Bay part of Cuba. After 9/11, the then Bush administration started to get detainees or prisoners from Afghanistan and from the Middle East and place them into this facility. During the 2008 presidential race, then-Senator Obama pledged that he would close it during his first term. And obviously we're now towards the end of his second term. He has still vowed to close that prison. Was that an accurate --
Anders: It is, yeah.
Traynham: And so having said that, why are you here, and why do you want to talk about closing Guantanamo Bay?
Anders: So, we're now more than 15 years past when Guantanamo opened. And one of the commitments that President Obama made during his campaign and actually on his second day in office was to close the Guantanamo prison and end indefinite detention without charge or trial. And here we are in --
Traynham: Seven years into his presidency.
Anders: Yeah, exactly. And we're a lot closer in terms of the numbers of prisoners is far below where it was when he took office. But there's still some challenges if he's gonna accomplish that goal by January 20th, when the new president takes office.
Traynham: Chris, there are a lot of supporters of Guantanamo Bay that would say, "Well, where do these people go? There has to be -- We're not technically at war. These individuals are high-value targets. If, in fact, we just release them, there's a very good chance that they would come back and do us more harm. But we need to keep them somewhere. So, where do we do that at?"
Anders: Okay, so, we can actually talk about real numbers here. So, right now, the number of detainees left at Guantanamo is 61. At its height, that number was almost 800. When President Obama took office, the number was 242. So, we're now down to 61 detainees -- actually $5 million per prisoner per year to keep them there -- but 61 detainees. Of those, 20 every national-security agency has said they can be cleared to be transferred overseas, right?
Traynham: Where would they go if they were transferred overseas?
Anders: So, for the most part, these are people that are safely transferred and resettled or repatriated either back to their home country -- you know, places like Australia, Canada, lots of other places -- or they're resettled, which means that, for one reason or another, they can't go back to their home country, a lot of times because they'd be tortured if they were sent back to their home country or their home country is too chaotic to manage them. So, these are people who the United States finds other countries that will continue to monitor them, will resettle them in their country. So, a lot of those are European countries. Saudi Arabia recently took a group of detainees who had been cleared for transfer. Latin American countries, lots of different countries around the world have stepped up and said that they'll take some of the detainees.
Traynham: I remember very vividly, as we just mentioned, then-Senator Obama stating that he wanted to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible. As we just talked about, seven years later, it's still open. Why do you think it has been so politically and maybe even from a military standpoint so difficult to close?
Anders: So, I mean, it's -- Here's the thing. When President Obama first ran for office, he ran against John McCain. John McCain and President Obama, like President Bush, who started it, like Condoleezza Rice, who was the Secretary of State, Secretary of State and general Colin Powell -- there were people from both parties who said, "Guantanamo has to close, that it's a danger to the United States to keep this open. It becomes a recruiting tool around the world for terrorists and people who look to do harm to the United States. And it does harm to our own values. It's a place that -- No one should be proud that the United States opened up Guantanamo." Now, there are some people at Guantanamo who can and should be charged with a crime and have been in front of the military commissions. Those people should be moved into regular federal criminal courts and put on trial there. But if, after 15 years, the United States can't figure out how to charge someone with a crime, it's time to say that there's no reason for them to be in prison.
Traynham: You know, Chris, what's gonna be really interesting to see in the literally days and weeks that we have left in the Obama administration is whether or not Guantanamo Bay will close under this presidency. Chris Anders, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate it. And thank you for joining us for this edition of "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We'll see you next time. Bye-bye.