Defense Secretary Ashton Carter denied that he was trying to slow down President Obama’s rush to close Guantanamo, arguing that “from the day I was nominated to be secretary of Defense” he thought “on balance it would be a good thing to close Gitmo.”
Several detainee transfers have been announced since the start of the year, including two announced last Thursday: one to Bosnia and Herzegovina and one to Montenegro.
That leaves 91 detainees at Gitmo. In his State of the Union address, Obama vowed to close the prison — something he first promised to do in an address to a joint session of Congress in 2009.
“I completely agree with President Obama about that,” Carter insisted in an interview with CNN. “But here’s the issue: There are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government no matter how much we trust that government. I can’t assure the president that it would be safe to do that.”
“So the reality is that this portion of the Gitmo population has to be incarcerated somewhere, has to be detained somewhere,” he added. “So if we’re going to close Gitmo, which I think would be a good thing to do on balance, I would prefer not to leave this to the next secretary of Defense and the next president. We need to find another place.”
Much to the chagrin of Congress, Carter stressed that “would have to be in the United States.”
“So I’ve made a proposal for the president and he has indicated that he’s going to submit that to the Congress. Why is that? Because it’s against the law now to establish another detention facility,” he continued. “So therefore we have to get the support of Congress. I hope they will support a reasonable plan. We’ll have to see. But so I’m the one who has been saying it’s not a matter of one guy here and there going to one country or another.”
“Let’s be realistic about this. We’re not going to be able to close Gitmo by magically making safe everybody who’s in there. So if you want to close Gitmo you have to find another place. That’s the serious answer to a serious question.”
Carter said earlier this month that he had delivered a plan to Obama to bring the most dangerous detainees “to an appropriate, secure location in the United States.”
Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) know that their states have been scouted for those “appropriate” locations and have been leading a wall of opposition in the upper chamber.
“No matter how hard the president wishes it wasn’t the case, transferring dozens of dangerous terrorists to any domestic location is illegal. It is also clear that closing Guantanamo and moving the detainees to South Carolina, Kansas or Colorado will not lead to even the smallest change in the beliefs or propaganda of radical Islamic terrorists,” the senators said in a joint statement Jan. 15.
“The president’s effort to create Gitmo North at a domestic location makes our nation less secure, and places a target square on an American community,” they continued. “We stand united against any attempts to relocate these dangerous terrorists to the mainland, no matter the specific location proposed in the Department of Defense report, and will use all of the tools at our disposal to stop it from happening.”