President Donald Trump announced Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech that he’d just signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era decision to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, reviving a dormant debate over the nation’s use of the “world’s most expensive prison.”
Before Obama ordered the closure of the prison, it was frequently the source of debate. Supporters say the prison is a useful tool in the war on terrorism and keeps the federal government from housing enemy combatants on U.S. soil. Detractors say the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists was inhumane, counter-productive and an abuse of power.
Currently, there are 41 detainees at the Guantánamo Bay Navy Base. Of those, 10 are charged with war crimes at a war court created by President George W. Bush. Congress thwarted Obama’s closure aspiration by blocking the transfers of Guantánamo captives to the United States.
By proximity, no Congressional representatives are closer to the issue than those elected in South Florida. Here’s how Miami’s Congressional representatives reacted:
Rep. Curbelo, R-Miami, represents a district that extends south all the way to Key West, the closest point in the U.S. to Guantánamo Bay. He said “terrorist enemy combatants have no place in our country.”
“I have personally toured the detention facilities at Guantánamo and can attest to the humane treatment and due process that is afforded to detainees there. The Joint Task Force and its facilities are a key asset in the ongoing war against terrorism and should remain active and open,” he said.
The Miami congressman, a Republican, called the use of Guantánamo Bay the “most pragmatic solution” for detaining terrorists.
“Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans were forced to confront the grim reality that terrorists target innocents. Terrorists do not respect human life or dignity, nor do they follow international norms regarding warfare. They torture, brutalize civilians including women and children, and commit atrocities that are unthinkable to most of us. While terrorists continue to wage war against us and the rest of the civilized world, we cannot return those captured to the battlefield to take up arms once again against our military serving abroad or our families at home.”
“At this time, Guantánamo Bay is the most pragmatic solution for protecting Americans from terrorists who would otherwise threaten our security and unleash chaos at every opportunity. I support keeping the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay open. I have visited these facilities, and seen firsthand the professionalism of the U.S. military. Our personnel treat enemy combatants with the dignity and respect to which all people are entitled.”
Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has not yet provided a statement. We will update when he does.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, called Trump’s order “unconscionable.”
“It is unconscionable that President Trump has decided to prolong Guantanamo Bay’s 16 years of shameful existence. This decision is antithetical to our values, undermines efforts to keep our nation safe and defeat terrorism, and will cost taxpayers more than $5 billion annually.
“President Obama took bold and decisive action to close Guantanamo Bay. However, the GOP-controlled Congress prevented the prison’s ultimate closure. It is inhumane to imprison people for years without charging or trying them. President Trump should embrace the opportunity to close one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history.
“His decision to allow Gitmo to remain open also sends a terrible message to other nations that may be tempted to mistreat innocent Americans captured and imprisoned abroad.”
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said that she supports Trump’s order, and that “not a single justification for closing the prison has been proven credible.”
“I support the administration’s move to keep Guantánamo Bay prison open in order to help safeguard our nation. Guantánamo holds dangerous terrorists who would not hesitate to do our country harm at a moment’s notice and not a single justification for closing the prison has been proven credible. Indeed, many of those released have returned to terrorism, there is no evidence additional transfers or opening a new facility would reduce costs, and there is no proof that the prison has a significant impact on terrorist recruitment or our global partnerships.”
“In addition, the naval station is a strategically important military asset, providing a constant and necessary U.S. presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. President Obama’s obsession with closing Guantánamo was always a dangerous waste of resources and I’m encouraged that the current administration is instead focusing that energy on addressing the threat of terrorism to our great nation.”
The first to react to Trump’s order, Rubio issued a statement late Tuesday night celebrating the decision.
“President Trump is right to reverse President Obama’s dangerous decision to release terrorists from U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay and seek closure of this important facility. Far too many terrorists released from GTMO have returned to the fight and directly threaten the safety of American troops and our citizens at home and abroad. The United States must continue to use all lawful tools, including detention of enemy combatants at GTMO, in our ongoing armed conflict against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, including ISIS. Going forward, I urge the Administration to capture those former GTMO detainees who have been released and resumed hostilities against the United States, and bring them to justice.”
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Rep. Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called Trump’s order “troubling.”
“The detention facility at Guantánamo should be shuttered. Its very existence serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists, emboldens repressive governments and endangers our troops serving on foreign soil. History will judge us harshly for doing anything else but closing what was originally envisioned to be a temporary holding facility. Our justice system serves us well and has resulted in deserved convictions for accused terrorists and it should be utilized to prosecute these heinous murderers to the fullest extent of the law. Trump has too often empowered critics to malign America with the stain of torture, hypocrisy and injustice. This troubling order will simply rearm those critics.”
Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg contributed to this article.