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Inside Biden’s effort to shut down Gitmo

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 1/16/2023 Jerry Dunleavy
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Joe Biden vowed to shut down the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay when he was running for president.

Two years into his presidency, however, the facility is still open, and even as he tries to shutter it, news of his administration's push for plea deals with the 9/11 plotters suggest the prison could be here to stay and demonstrate the fraught political minefield he is attempting to walk across.

Pretrial hearings for the yet-to-start trial have been repeatedly canceled as the Biden administration seeks to strike a deal with the al Qaeda members. Negotiations between the prosecutors and defense attorneys, which began in March 2022, could reportedly result in plea deals in which capital punishment would not be a possible punishment for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants.

Top Republicans have criticized any deal that would take the death penalty off the table.

Biden has continued his efforts to shut the prison down. But even if plea deals were secured with Mohammed and his co-conspirators, Republicans would seek to block those men from ever leaving the facility.

The $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act passed in late 2022 included provisions that continued to bar the use of Pentagon funds to transfer the prison's detainees to certain foreign countries and banned using Pentagon funds to transfer certain detainees at Guantanamo Bay (including the men responsible for 9/11) into the United States.

Biden signed the NDAA into law in December 2022 but included a signing statement criticizing those provisions, signaling his desire to keep his options open on closing the prison.


“These provisions unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release,” Biden wrote. “In some circumstances, these provisions could make it difficult to comply with the final judgment of a court that has directed the release of a detainee on writ of habeas corpus, including by constraining the flexibility of the executive branch with respect to its engagement in delicate negotiations with foreign countries over the potential transfer of detainees."

Biden added, “I urge the Congress to eliminate these restrictions.”

The 9/11 case at Guantanamo Bay has been delayed many times following unfavorable Supreme Court decisions under President George W. Bush and an abandoned effort by President Barack Obama to try the men in a New York City federal court, with President Donald Trump vowing to keep the prison open and Biden now quietly working to end detainee operations there.

Last month, the New York Times reported that the U.S. military had put together plans to replace the current two-story 1954-era hospital at Guantanamo Bay with a new $435 million “Ambulatory Care Center” to provide healthcare to the hundreds of military prison guards stationed on the island. The first stage of proposed construction comes at a price tag of $187 million and would need to be approved by Congress in the budget for 2024.

Despite the massive proposed construction project, the Biden Pentagon quickly insisted that the plan was still to shut down the prison.

“The United States is focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” a Pentagon spokesman said in response to the report.

When the Washington Examiner visited Guantanamo Bay for 9/11 pretrial hearings held at the island war court in September 2021, significant construction in preparation for a potential trial was ramping up at the naval’s base’s “Camp Justice” despite Biden’s pledge to shutter the detention facility.

When asked in February 2021 about Biden’s intention to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “That certainly is the goal and our intention.” The White House has reiterated that stance.

The State Department announced in July 2021, just ahead of the Taliban takeover of Kabul that August, that it was releasing Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdul Latif Nasir — a Moroccan citizen who was a key al Qaeda leader and bin Laden associate who had spent years fighting alongside the Taliban in the 1990s and after the U.S. invasion.


The Biden administration refused to send a witness to testify at a Democratic-led Senate hearing in December 2021 about shutting down the detention facility as Republicans compared Biden's efforts to shut down the Cuban prison to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.


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Tags: Guantanamo Bay, Justice Department, 9/11, Joe Biden, KSM

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: Inside Biden’s effort to shut down Gitmo


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