CAIR Slams Trump’s Move to Keep Gitmo Open; ‘Exclusively Muslim-Populated Military Prison’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 1, 2018 | 4:22 AM EST

Defense Secretary James Mattis addresses U.S. military personnel at Joint Task Force Guantánamo on December 21, 2017. (Photo: JTF-GTMO/Twitter)

( – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is unhappy about President Trump’s executive order keeping open indefinitely the terrorist detention facility – or as CAIR describes it, “the illegal, exclusively Muslim-populated military prison” – at Guantánamo Bay.

Trump’s order, signed just before he delivered his State of the Union address and announced in the speech, allows for the possibility that the center – where 41 men are still being held – could see newcomers, a decade after the last known arrival in March 2008.

“[T]he United States may transport additional detainees to U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay when lawful and necessary to protect the Nation,” the order states.

“We condemn President Trump’s order to keep the illegal, exclusively Muslim-populated military prison in Guantánamo Bay open,” the director of CAIR’s government affairs department, Robert McCaw, said in a statement.

“Reports of abuse and a lack of due process at Guantánamo have tarnished our nation’s image in the international community and diminished our moral authority to prosecute suspected terrorists in U.S. custody.”

CAIR advocates for the detention center to be shut down and for the remaining detainees to be released or put on trial in civilian courts.

“Guantánamo subverts the criminal justice system by not giving the 41 men detained there due process and their day in court. Those determined to be innocent should be released and sent back to their families,” said McCaw.

“The accused should be given a fair trial, consistent with our nation’s constitutional values. Only the guilty should be sentenced, providing closure to their victims. Moreover, our government should not prolong the imprisonment of detainees already cleared for release.”

(Of the 41 remaining detainees, five cleared by the Obama administration for transfer to their home countries or third countries remain at the facility, according to human rights monitors.)

In his address on Tuesday night, Trump said when possible, the U.S. has no choice but to “annihilate” terrorists – but that “when necessary, we must be able to detain and question them.”

Trump said terrorists were not just criminals, but unlawful enemy combatants. When they are captured abroad, he said, they “should be treated like the terrorists they are.”

He criticized previous administrations for “foolishly” releasing hundreds of dangerous terrorists – including ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Baghdadi was not held at Guantánamo Bay, but was imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2005. He was held at the U.S. military-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, but was later released.)

Trump then announced that just before the speech he had directed Defense Secretary James Mattis “to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay.”

‘Legal, safe, humane’

President Obama came into office promising to close the detention center and although almost 200 detainees were allowed to leave during his tenure – mostly repatriated or resettled in third countries willing to take them – he was unable to keep the pledge due mostly to opposition in Congress. By the time he left the White House there were still 41 detainees being held.

Before Obama took office, more than 500 detainees had been transferred out during the administration of President George W. Bush, which established the facility in 2002, following the al-Qaeda terrorist attack on the U.S. the previous fall.

In his executive order, Trump notes that the U.S. remains in conflict with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, “and associated forces, including with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

The order describes the detention operations as “legal, safe, humane, and conducted consistent with United States and international law.”

“Those operations are continuing given that a number of the remaining individuals at the detention facility are being prosecuted in military commissions, while others must be detained to protect against continuing, significant threats to the security of the United States, as determined by periodic reviews,” it says.

“Given that some of the current detainee population represent the most difficult and dangerous cases from among those historically detained at the facility, there is significant reason for concern regarding their reengagement in hostilities should they have the opportunity.”

Support for the president’s decision came from John Bolton, who served as the Bush administration’s top arms control official and as ambassador to the United Nations.

“There was no better manifestation of the president’s commitment to winning the ‘long war’ than his unequivocal statement that our terrorist prison at Guantánamo Bay would remain open,” Bolton wrote in an op-ed on the State of the Union.

“Trump thereby emphatically rejected the Clinton and Obama administrations’ ‘law enforcement’ paradigm for handling terrorism, and embraced the ‘war paradigm,’ which brings into play a different mind set, different national powers and different legal authorities and constraints.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow