April 25, 2018

IntelBrief: More Long-Term Consequences from GTMO 

a U.S. trooper mans a machine gun in the turret on a vehicle as a guard looks out from a tower in front of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File) .
  • An April 24 New York Times article highlighted what might be another toxic consequence of the GTMO detention facility.
  • Under the Obama Administration, the U.S arranged for various countries to take in nearly 150 former GTMO detainees deemed to be lower-risk.
  • Hundreds of people were swept up in the early months of GTMO renditions in late 2001 and early 2002, many later determined to be innocent or of such low-level terrorist threat as to not justify the extraordinary detention measures of GTMO.
  • With the Trump Administration’s shuttering of the ‘Office of Guantanamo Closure’ it will be hard to track what resettlement countries do with former GTMO detainees.


The existence of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) has left the global community less, not more, secure.The military commission trials—related to the September 11 attacks—are sputtering along at GTMO, almost 17 years later. Now there might be another negative long-term consequence to add to the moral, legal, and financial ones. That is the possibility that some of the 150 former detainees who had been resettled to new places might be deported back to their home countries, which are in many cases unstable—an outcome that presents both humanitarian and security challenges.

An April 24 article in the New York Times looked at Senegal’s recent decision to deport two former GTMO detainees, resettled there during the Obama administration, back to their home country of Libya. The resettlement program was intended to do two things simultaneously for ‘lower-risk’ detainees. First, by resettling former detainees in stable countries, it was hoped that they could rejoin society and not be lured into or back into terrorism. The relatively stable countries to which these former detainees were sent had the capability to monitor them and could provide assistance in employment, education, and language training. Secondly, the program kept former detainees from going back to an environment in which their lives might be at risk given their past connections or actions.

It bears repeating that hundreds of people were swept up in the early months of GTMO renditions in late 2001 and early 2002, many of whom were later determined to be innocent or of such a low-level terrorist threat as to not justify the extraordinary detention measures of GTMO. The move by Senegal to deport the two men back to war-torn Libya might be an outlier in a program that has had a mix of success and failure, or it might signal the unraveling of the whole program. Many countries took in former GTMO detainees after extensive negotiations and persuasion by the Obama Administration, which wanted to close GTMO but was blocked from doing so by Congress.

As with nearly everything related to GTMO, it appears as if one of the few ‘successes,’ the safe transfer of former detainees, can no longer be viewed as such. The U.S. will need to re-engage with host countries to address their concerns and do so on a continual basis. It has shuttered the ‘Office of Guantanamo Closure’ that served as the central point for all issues related to resettled detainees, further complicating the process. In nearly all cases, resettling former GTMO detainees was a domestic headache for these governments, with obvious downsides and potential risks, and little upside other than the hard-to-sell cases of humanitarian need and long-game security calculus. The Trump Administration has discussed not simply keeping GTMO open but sending new terrorist suspects there for indefinite detention.


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