Guantanamo prisoners set to leave amid ongoing trade backlash
Published 9:31 am Monday, June 9, 2014
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Some of the men held here for more than a decade have been drafting plans for work and marriage on the outside or studying languages, preparing for a not-too-distant future beyond the coiled razor wire that surrounds the U.S. prison perched at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
Until the past week, they had good reason to believe their ticket out might be imminent, if not home then at least to another country. President Barack Obama and others in the administration say they are committed to closing the Guantanamo detention center and military officials say they can resume transfers at a moment’s notice, just as they did with the May 31 swap of five Guantanamo inmates for a captured American soldier.
“All I need is the names and a country and we could do it all very, very efficiently,” the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, said in an interview Saturday at the start of a visit to the base he oversees.
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But the current furor over the trade of the five Taliban prisoners for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may have complicated the situation.
The deal to swap Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years in Afghanistan, was brokered by the Obama White House without consulting Congress. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who initially praised Bergdahl’s release have since backed off amid an outcry over the exchange, including questions about whether he walked away from his post before he was captured.
Congress plans hearings on the exchange for the five prisoners, who officials here say were leaders inside the detention center as well as in the Taliban. Any immediate transfers of other inmates are likely to further inflame members of Congress, much to the dismay of attorneys for some of the 71 prisoners awaiting transfer after a security review.
Before anyone can be released, the Obama administration must obtain security and humane treatment assurances with the home country or repatriation agreements for third countries, a time-consuming process even before the required 30-day notice to Congress, which eased the restrictions on transfers last year but still bars sending any of the men to the United States.