Officials from the Department of State and the Pentagon told Congress Wednesday that closing the detention facility housing suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay is the single most important step in countering terrorism abroad, despite admitting former detainees have killed Americans.
Paul M. Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for Guantanamo Closure, and his colleague Lee Wolosky, who serves in the same position at the State Department, both outlined why the Obama administration believes the detention facility’s closure is crucial to national security in their testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Lewis described the closure as a “bipartisan security imperative.” He noted that President Barack Obama believes the facility “weakens our national security by damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, draining resources and providing violent extremists with a propaganda tool.”
Lewis claimed that “two presidents, four former secretaries of defense [and] eight former secretaries of state” agree the facility should be closed.
Attempting to assuage any concerns over the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, Lewis claimed Secretary of Defense Ash Carter “does not transfer a detainee unless he is confident that the threat is substantially mitigated and it’s in the national security interests of the United States.”
Though he said precautions are taken in prisoner transfers, Lewis at one point in the testimony seemingly contradicted himself, acknowledging “there have been Americans that have died because of [Guantanamo] detainees.”
Some former detainees have gone on to continue their terrorist careers after their time in Guantanamo. One former detainee has become something of a local celebrity in Yemen since his release. Ibrahim Qosi (also known as Sheikh Khubayb al-Sudani) was featured in an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) propaganda video last year, hailing the actions of the Kourachi brothers who perpetrated the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in France.
During a joint appearance with Obama Monday, Cuban dictator Raul Castro, who at one time personally took several U.S. military personnel as prisoners during the Cuban revolution, demanded a closure of the detention facility.
Despite recent attacks perpetrated or inspired by the Islamic State in Paris, San Bernardino and most recently Brussels, Lewis said plans to close to the detention facility will go on.
Obama’s plan will “continue to transfer [detainees], accelerate the [Periodic Review Board] process, look for individual dispositions and, most importantly, work with Congress to find a location to transfer everybody from Guantanamo safely and securely,” said Lewis.
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