WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump said in a tweet Tuesday that no additional detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center should be released, calling the remaining men “extremely dangerous people” who “should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
It’s unclear what prompted the comment, but it came two weeks after The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is planning to release 17 to 18 of the remaining 59 detainees at the prison detainees before President Barack Obama leaves office.
White House press secretary John Earnest Tuesday declined to confirm the Times report, but indicated that Trump’s comment will not change the Obama administration’s plans.
“I would expect at this point additional transfers to be announced before January 20th,” said Earnest. “… [Trump will] have an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes is most effective when he takes office on January 20th.”
Trump said while campaigning that he intends to “load it up with some bad dudes.” Since assuming office, Obama has not added any detainees to Guantanamo’s population.
The remaining detainees include 10 men involved who have been charged within the Guantanamo military commissions, including five accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks and the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing.
Twenty-six of the men are considered “forever prisoners,” captives who the U.S. government has determined must remain in custody because of the threat they pose to U.S. security but who have not been charged with a crime because of a lack of court-worthy evidence. The other 5 or 6 men have been cleared for release by an interagency review board, but are not part of the group expected to be transferred out.
The “forever prisoners” are held indefinitely under the legal rationale of the international law of armed conflict, because the U.S. has been at war with al Qaeda and its associated forces since 2001.
Human rights groups have criticized Obama for not closing the prison, as he promised while campaigning in 2008.
Obama has argued that the continued use of the prison “is contrary to our values” and “undermines our standing in the world.” His efforts to close the detention center have been met with opposition in the Pentagon and Congress.
About 18 percent of released detainees are known to have returned to the battlefield while 14 percent are suspected to have returned, according to figures from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Obama administration officials have admitted that a number of Americans have been killed on the battlefield by detainees released under President George W. Bush.
The Obama administration has repatriated or resettled to a third party country 179 prisoners, cutting the population from 242 when Bush left office. The detention center housed more than 700 prisoners at its peak population.