WASHINGTON, March 23, 2016 —
Significant numbers of Defense Department and senior military leaders say closing the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba is the single most important action the United States can take to counter terrorism, DoD’s special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure said on Capitol Hill today.
Paul M. Lewis and the State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo closure, Lee Wolosky, discussed in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing the reasons President Barack Obama plans to close the detainee camp.
The president and his national security team have determined closing the detention facility is a “bipartisan national security imperative,” Lewis said.
The president has repeatedly said that the continued operation of the detention facility at Guantanamo “weakens our national security by damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, draining resources and providing violent extremists with a propaganda tool," he said.
The call to close the detention facility is shared by “two presidents, four former secretaries of defense [and] eight former secretaries of state,” Lewis said. “[It] demonstrates the bipartisan support at the highest level of our national security leadership.”
And foreign leaders regularly cite the facility as an “obstacle to counterterrorism efforts,” Lewis said.
Carter: Transfer Safety is Vital
Safety in transferring detainees is vital to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the Pentagon’s special envoy emphasized.
“Secretary Carter has forcefully stated that safety is his No. 1 priority,” Lewis said. “He does not transfer a detainee unless he is confident that the threat is substantially mitigated and it's in the national security interests of the United States."
Before Obama began efforts to close Guantanamo with an executive order just days after taking office in 2009, former President George W. Bush had also worked to close it down, Lewis said. Bush also believed the facility was a U.S. enemy propaganda tool and a distraction for U.S. allies, he added.
Close to Closing Up
“We're closer to it than many people realize,” he said of closing the facility, adding that of the nearly 800 detainees who have been imprisoned there since it opened in 2002, more than 85 percent have been transferred, including about 500 by the Bush administration. Numerous nations and territories have accepted detainees since 2009, he explained.
The Plan Forward
The special envoy expressed gratitude for the U.S. service members who work in Guantanamo’s detention operations.
“They have our deepest appreciation for their service and their professionalism, which they display each and every day on behalf of our nation,” he said.
Obama’s four-element plan will “continue to transfer [detainees], accelerate the [Periodic Review Board] process, look for individual dispositions and, most importantly, work with Congress to find a location to transfer everybody from Guantanamo safely and securely,” he said.
“We believe the issue is not whether to close the Guantanamo detention facility,” Lewis said. “It's how to do it.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)