DoD News Briefing: Mr. Dennis Boxx, DATSD PA
Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon.
One administrative announcement before we start. I'd like to recognize three visiting journalists from the Republic of Korea's [Segae] Times. A warm DoD welcome to Mr. Che Chang Li, Mr. Yong Gerl Han, and Mr. Gin So Han. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy this briefing as much as I do. [Laughter]
With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q: You said you've made a decision to send Cubans back to GTMO. When are you going to start, and how are you going to do it?
A: I can confirm that there has been a decision reached on that. The agreement between the governments of Panama and the U.S. to provide safe haven facilities for Cuban migrants expires on March 6th. We intend to honor the commitment and ensure that the safe haven camps in Panama are closed by that date. We are deeply grateful for the cooperation and assistance provided to this humanitarian effort by the Panamanian government for the past several months.
As a consequence of the impending deadline, beginning shortly, Cubans currently in the safe haven in Panama will be transferred to safe haven in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This information was communicated to the leaders of the safe haven camps in Panama and to the Panamanian government earlier today. Every effort will be made to ensure that this transfer is accomplished in a safe and orderly manner. To this end, additional forces will be deployed to Panama to maintain a secure atmosphere for U.S. military personnel conducting the transfer and for the Cuban migrants themselves. We will also strive to make the transfer as smooth as possible for the migrants, and to the extent possible, facilities available in Panama will be duplicated in Guantanamo, and programs which the Cubans now enjoy in Panama will be continued in Guantanamo Bay. We will continue to try to improve the living conditions in the safe haven in Guantanamo Bay.
As you know -- I will add a footnote -- we're going to do a background briefing here, immediately after this briefing, where we can get into the details of the logistics of this, so if you have that kind of a "nitty gritty," let's hold it for someone far more knowledgeable than I.
Q: You won't be able to start doing this before February, will you not?
A: The time frame is still being worked out. The security forces involved will not be arriving immediately, so we would look at this to be happening in the near future but not immediately.
Q: Can you tell us if there's any planning underway about allowing the dependents, the U.S. military dependents who were previously housed at Guantanamo to return?
A: I'm not aware of any planning in that area, Jamie. We will be back up to somewhere around 30,000 migrants in Guantanamo, so I'm not sure that will, at this point at least, allow us to be able to make those kinds of plans.
Q: Do you know whether it's going to be done by ship or air or possibly both?
A: Let's hold that, Charlie, for the briefer. He's going to get into some of that.
`Q: Is it planned that all the Haitians will be gone before the Cubans start coming back?
A: It's likely that that would be the case. It's not absolute, but it's likely.
Q: How many Haitains?
A Haitains in Guantanamo Bay?
Q: The numbers elsewhere as well, do you have...
A: Cubans -- Cuban refugees in Guantanamo Bay is 21,168. Cuban refugees in Panama, 7,977.
Q: How many U.S. military personnel are involved in the operation at Guantanamo now?
A: Right now at Guantanamo there's 4,390. That number would be increased, I think, as you know, by about 1,800 with these additional forces.
Q: And in Panama?
A: 3,498, looking at about a 1,250 increase. Again, I urge you to hold off on these questions as we have a far more informed briefer coming down than I.
Q: What's going to happen to these people? They're just going to stay in GTMO forever?
A: The Cuban migrants will be permitted to remain in safe haven in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. I would add, too, that no Cuban migrants will be compelled to return home, and we will also facilitate the return home of those migrants who wish to do so, and we'll continue to seek third country resettlement opportunities for Cuban migrants.
Q: Theoretically, GTMO might never again be a fully functioning U.S. military base?
A: Anything is possible, theoretically, but we plan for an indefinite...
Q: What is the estimated cost of this operation once all 30,000 are there? Can you give us any sort of ball park figure about what it will cost to maintain this operation indefinitely?
A: Guantanamo Bay in terms of running the migrant camps? The number, right now, for the Cuban camps in Guantanamo Bay is about $20 million a month. Jamie, I haven't calculated out what differential there might be with an increase of almost 8,000. But the current cost is about $20 million a month.
Q: I realize this is a story that received some congressional attention yesterday, but can you just comment on what is contemplated in terms of any change in policy regarding the payment of salary to those in the military convicted of crimes?
A: We certainly are very concerned about the issues that were raised by Senator Boxer, yesterday. We are, in fact, looking at that. Dr. Deutch has asked Ed Dorn to look at what options might be available. I would make one note here. What we're talking about is not a DoD policy. We're talking about the Uniformed Code of Military Justice which is codified by law. We are following the law and we are now, at Dr. Deutch's direction, looking at whether or not it's appropriate to seek legislative change to the law. We are doing that, and we are concerned. But, until we can get Ed Dorn to complete that review, I don't have a whole lot more I can add.
Q: Thank you.