In a worldwide troop talk today broadcast from Fort Meade, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged that about half of the Guantanamo population should never be set free.
Taking questions from troops via video and Twitter, Carter was asked about the future of the naval station in Cuba by a petty officer stationed there.
“Guantanamo Bay is a military installation that is strategically located that we have been operating for a long time, and that’s going to stay important, and I don’t see us changing that,” Carter said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday that President Obama is still “eager” to close the prison. Cuba has also demanded that the U.S. give them Gitmo.
“My view is that it would be good, if possible, to close Guantanamo Bay, if it can be done safely,” Carter said. “And the reason I say that is that it ends up being part of jihadi recruiting and so forth, and I’d just assume not leave that to future presidents.”
“Now, why is it tricky to do that? The reason it’s tricky to do that is this: Some of the people who are there at Guantanamo Bay have to be detained indefinitely, OK? They just gotta be locked up. So if they’re not locked up in Guantanamo Bay, they need to be locked up somewhere. So we are looking at places in the United States — prisons and other places — to which these people can be moved.”
The Defense secretary estimated “there are some, maybe half or so, of the population at Guantanamo Bay that, under conditions that are safe, that is, where we can mitigate the risk that they’ll ever return to the battlefield, we may be able to transfer them to some other country.”
“But there’s another roughly half of them that are not safe to release, period. So they need to be detained somewhere,” Carter continued. “If they’re detained at Guantanamo, fine. I would prefer to find a different place for them, and right now, we’re working with the Congress, because the Congress has to agree to this, because there’re laws restricting what we do with — with respect to Guantanamo Bay.”
“So we’ll try to come up with a plan and work with Congress to see if we can do that or not. It would be a — it would be a nice thing to do and an important thing to do if we — if we can do it. But we gotta be realistic about the people who are in Guantanamo Bay. They’re there for a reason.”
Earnest was asked at Monday’s press briefing if the administration, frustrated with the transfer restrictions put in place by Congress, was intending to run around lawmakers with unilateral action on Guantanamo.
“I think we’ve been pretty blunt about the fact that Congress — members of Congress in both parties, to be fair — have put in place significant obstacles that have prevented the administration from making nearly as much progress as we would like to make in closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And Congress has been effective in thwarting that effort,” Earnest said.
“…I think it is fair to say that we have taken a number of steps to try to reduce the prison population there so we can get closer to closing the prison. The president and his team are always considering a wide array of options.”