GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE – As the Obama administration pushes forward with its long-awaited plan to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, military officials are looking to the U.S. mainland as an alternate site to house the remaining detainees suspected of war crimes who would be brought over for trial or indefinite detention.
But is the U.S. ready for that?
“Not on my watch will any terrorist be placed in Kansas,” Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said in a statement last week, as military officials visited the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, a potential relocation site for Guantanamo detainees.
But the Obama administration thinks otherwise. Earlier this year, during the State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “It makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit.”
So far the plan is to transfer 52 of the remaining 116 captives to other nations; the remaining 64 would be transferred to the U.S.
But those plans remain unclear today amid internal disagreements and lawmakers opposing having “forever prisoners” in their backyard.
“There is no plan or study that shows transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to South Carolina or any other domestic location will make America safer,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott said of the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, another possible relocation site that sits close to schools, neighborhoods and tourist destinations.
Out of the 780 detainees held in Guantanamo over the last 13 years, 655 of them have been transferred to 55 countries from Afghanistan to Estonia, according to a New York Times and NPR docket . It costs about $3 million per year to house a detainee in Guantanamo, according to a Miami Herald report based on Department of Defense figures.
Closing the detention facility for terrorism suspects has been a top priority for Obama since his first run for presidency in 2007. In Jan. 2009 he signed an executive order stating that the detention facilities at Guantanamo would be closed in a year and that any remaining detainees would be “returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility.”
But those actually working on the naval base aren’t showing any signs of change.
“Until that time comes, we have an obligation and a duty and that’s to provide safe and humane custody of the individuals that are assigned here,” Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad told Fusion during a visit in June. “When it happens,” he said, “we’re fully on board to support that.” Cozad was the 14th commanding officer of the detention facility, but has since been replaced.
“I don’t know why they would close it now,” a 26-year-old male guard told Fusion. The guard’s identity cannot be disclosed due to security reasons but he told us he wished Americans would be “more understanding” of the work they do.
He described his job as “a day to day operation.” One day it could be completely quiet and the next it’s out of control, creating a tense environment in the camps.
The Obama administration faces another political hurdle: Congress has to lift a 2010 ban on transferring any detainees to U.S. soil for continued detention or trial, according to the National Defense Authorization Act. And most of the country is split on the idea of closing the prison camps, according to a Jan. 2015 Pew Research poll.
Until then, the camps in Guantanamo remain open—but nearly empty—as Obama rushes to make good on his promise.
Watch below for another side of Guantanamo that you’ve never seen before: