MILITARY

Obama Administration hopes to transfer 22 Gitmo detainees, sources say

Republican reacts to President Obama reportedly readying to transfer over a dozen detainees

 

There is an effort underway to transfer up to 22 Gitmo detainees to other countries by the time President Obama leaves office, two defense officials told Fox News.

Obama pledged to close the offshore detention center upon taking office, but as time runs out on his administration that almost certainly will not happen.

More than half the men still held there have not been cleared for release and Congress has prohibited moving prisoners to the U.S. for any reason.

There are currently 59 remaining detainees, of those, 27 are considered too dangerous to transfer. The 22 expected to leave Cuba, have already been approved to transfer to other nations by an inter-agency task force.

The New York Times first reported on the story.

The U.S. opened Guantanamo to hold militants suspected of ties to Al Qaeda and Taliban in the aftermath of the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Most were never charged with a crime, and the indefinite detention, combined with the mistreatment of prisoners in the early days of the detention center, prompted global criticism. Earlier this month, Obama called it a "blot on our national honor."

The military has consolidated the prisoners who are left into two units and has not replaced nearly 300 American troops who recently left. Large sections of the detention center are now vacant amid the rolling, cactus covered hills of southeastern Cuba.

But there are also signs that the detention center isn't going away soon. The military is building a medical clinic, at a cost of $8.4 million, inside a recently vacated prison unit to eliminate the need to transport detainees to the base's existing one. The government is also building a $12.4 million dining facility for troops who work at the prison and seeking the funds for better housing.

And the military tribunals for seven detainees who have been charged with war crimes, including five men accused of planning and aiding the 9/11 attack, have been slogging along in the pretrial stage for years and no trial dates have even been scheduled.

Fifteen "high-value" detainees, including the Sept. 11 defendants, are held in Camp 7, a maximum-security unit that the military does not show to journalists. Even its exact location on the base is classified.

All the other detainees are now in Camp 6, a glass and concrete prison facility where they live in air-conditioned communal pods, allowed to roam free of their cells 22 hours a day. The men eat and pray together, play soccer, attend art and language classes, and have access to movies and satellite TV, which officials say allowed them to closely follow the U.S. election.

The men there include Khalid Qasim, whose lawyer identified him as the man who held up the question mark painting. A review board determined in 2015 that he had trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and should not be released, though the U.S. has no intention of prosecuting the 39-year-old from Yemen.

"His 14-plus years of detention, without charge or trial, are an affront to U.S. values," said his lawyer, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of the human rights group Reprieve. "All Khalid wants is to be reunited with his family, and to rebuild his life. Obama must urgently grant him his freedom, before it's too late."

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report