Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited Guantanamo Bay Friday, the first move by the Trump administration to re-fill the prison camp since Trump entered office.
One of the last things Obama did before leaving office was to issue an executive order shutting the prison down, quickly prompting then-candidate Trump to vow he’d reopen it when he assumed office. Friday marked the first steps toward refilling the camp, which has never officially shut down.
“We have taken off the table the silly ideas that the previous administration had about Guantanamo,” said David Rivkin, constitutional litigator and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who served under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush in the White House counsel’s office and the Justice Department.
A total of 41 prisoners remain in Guantanamo, and Periodic Review Boards have analyzed a few cases, but none have been cleared for transfer. They are currently awaiting prisoners from the Middle East, and lawyers are pitching tents for battle on both sides.
“It’s really business as usual at Guantanamo,” said Wells Dixon, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing some detainees. “The men are very aware of the fact that no one has left Guantanamo since the end of the Obama administration, and that takes a tremendous psychological toll,” he said. “It is torture by any reasonable measure.”
Dixon remains at Guantanamo in order to argue on behalf of the incoming prisoners against the authorization of military force that allows the US Military to house them there, on account of the fact that authorization didn’t specifically mention ISIS.
“We are awaiting the arrival of suspected ISIS fighters at Guantanamo so that we can represent them and challenge the application of AUMF,” Dixon said.
But lawyers supporting the prison camp see it differently.
“If you get an ISIS guy, which court of appeals panel is going to suggest that he be let go,” Rivkin said. “I have every confidence that the issue will work itself out well.”
Regardless, the trip by Sessions was merely a beginning of the process to reopen the camp, but the Trump administration’s stance on what they’re willing to do to combat terrorism is clear.
“In addition to the Department of Justice’s role in handling detainee-related litigation, it is important for the Department of Justice to have an up-to-date understanding of current operations,” department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement. “The purpose of the trip is to gain that understanding by meeting with the people on the ground who are leading our government-wide efforts at GTMO. Keeping this country safe from terrorists is the highest priority of the Trump administration. Recent attacks in Europe and elsewhere confirm that the threat to our nation is immediate and real, and it remains essential that we use every lawful tool available to prevent as many attacks as possible.”
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