President Trump, what are your short-term and long-term plans for the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency promising to close Guantanamo Bay prison. Donald Trump, on the other hand, promised during his campaign, "we're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."
What exactly does that mean?
More than a month after Trump's inauguration, the future is still uncertain for Gitmo, which has been a controversial site since the Bush administration established it after 9/11 as an extrajudicial detention center for suspected terrorists and fighters captured in the course of America's so-called war on terror. Detainees have been subjected to
Obama failed to close the prison for eight years, despite issuing an executive order on his second day in office directing that it be shuttered within a year. He repeatedly blamed Congress for keeping the facility open and he worked to release, repatriate or resettle cleared detainees. The population of Guantanamo peaked in June 2003, when there were 684 men held there. Nearly 800 men have been detained there over time. Forty-one remain.
The Defense Department spent nearly $450 million operating the facility in 2015.
There's plenty besides Trump's campaign rhetoric to suggest his administration will reinvest energy in the detention center.
On Wednesday, Sebastian Gorka, a top Trump aide, called it an "important tool" and an "asset."
“The president has been really explicit ... that Gitmo is a very, very important tool,” Gorka said on Fox News. "It's also important to understand that Guantanamo Bay is an incredibly important intelligence asset."
"You look at the things that we have managed to achieve based upon the intelligence gleaned from the prisoners there," he said. "So we stand by the president's determination during the campaign that this is something we have to keep."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also defended the prison's value. During his confirmation hearings in January, he argued that Guantanamo should continue to serve as a detention center for accused terrorists.
"It's designed for that purpose," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It fits that purpose marvelously well. It's a safe place to keep prisoners. We've invested a lot of money" in it.
And that's precisely what a draft executive order obtained by news media suggests the White House is planning to do. The order, as written, would also pave the way for housing ISIS captives at Guantanamo — a move that would likely be challenged in court. Obama launched military operations against ISIS under the post-9/11 congressional authorization for the use of force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But some legal scholars consider that argument a stretch, and warn that a single ISIS detainee filing a habeas corpus lawsuit from Guantanamo could put America's entire anti-ISIS military campaign under legal scrutiny.
If it seems like the writing is on the wall for Guantanamo, it's not obvious at the prison — at least not yet.
As Foreign Policy reported this week, military officials at Guantanamo are following the same operating orders they received under Obama. They expect new orders any day, and they're fully aware that Trump has promised a total reversal of the previous administration's drawdown. But for now, it's business as usual until the men and women running Gitmo find out what what business as usual will mean going forward.
It's not clear then what's happening with Guantanamo Bay tomorrow, this week or next month. But there's a longer term question, too. Obama hoped leave office knowing that Guantanamo Bay prison was left to America's history. Does Trump hope to make the prison an institution for well into the country's future?
So, Mr. President, what are your specific plans for Guantanamo? Click here to tweet the question to the president.
Over President Donald Trump's roughly first 100 days, we'll be asking him questions that our audience wants answers to. Join the project by tweeting this question to @realDonaldTrump with the hashtag #100Days100Qs. See more of our questions at pri.org/100questions.