With little over two weeks left in the Obama administration, and Congress on notice of a series of looming detainee transfers, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday for a cessation of Guantánamo prisoner releases. The Obama administration swiftly rejected the request.
Expect announcements of additional transfers before Inauguration Day, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. Trump will “have an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes is most effective when he takes office on Jan. 20,” he added.
Of the 59 captives currently held at the detention center, 23 are cleared for release to other countries with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Ten are charged with crimes and the remaining 26 are held as indefinite detainees in the war on terror, or “forever prisoners.” Carter has sent notices to Congress of planned transfers for most, but not all, of the 23 cleared captives that could begin later this week.
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Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook similarly dismissed the possibility that the Department of Defense would honor Trump’s tweeted request. “There is one commander in chief at a time,” Cook said, “and the Secretary of Defense will continue to carry out his responsibilities as he sees appropriate.”
It was unclear what prompted the president-elect to tweet on the topic with such urgency on Tuesday. “There should be no further releases from Gitmo,” the president-elect said, using the shorthand for the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. “These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
The Washington Post editorial board on Monday urged him to close the detention center, the opposite of his campaign pledge to “load it up.”
“If his desire is to try and convict captured terrorists, U.S. courts have proved to be the best venue, and federal supermax prisons have had no trouble holding those convicted,” the editorial board wrote, without reference to Attorney General-select Jeff Sessions’ opposition to such trials. “Stop treating terrorists like civilians,” the Republican senator from Alabama said in January 2010.
“If he wishes to avoid handing easy propaganda victories to enemies of the United States, Mr. Trump will not send new prisoners to Guantánamo, but instead finish Mr. Obama’s work and shut it down,” the board also wrote, without noting Secretary of Defense-select James Mattis’ opposition to prisoner releases.