Attorney General Jeff Sessions is visiting Guantanamo Bay Friday in a show of support for the prison he has called a fine place to detain new terrorism suspects, as opposed to having them prosecuted by the Justice Department in U.S. courts.
Sessions is traveling to the detention facility in Cuba with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, to gain "an up-to-date understanding of current operations," Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said. They will "meet with the people on the ground who are leading our government-wide efforts" there. It is Sessions' first trip there since becoming attorney general.
"Recent attacks in Europe and elsewhere confirm that the threat to our nation is immediate and real, and it remains essential that we use every lawful tool available to prevent as many attacks as possible," Prior said.
Sessions has long been a vocal supporter of the continued use of Guantanamo, calling it a "very fine place for holding these kind of dangerous criminals."
"We've spent a lot of money fixing it up," Sessions told the conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt in a March interview. "And I'm inclined to the view that it remains a perfectly acceptable place. And I think the fact that a lot of the criticisms have just been totally exaggerated."
The support for Guantanamo now represents a complete reversal of eight years of efforts to close it. The Obama administration sent no new detainees there, and though it didn't fulfill a promise to shut it down, whittled the population from 242 to 41.
Obama's Justice Department maintained that the U.S. civilian court system was the most legally sound forum in which to prosecute terror suspects captured in the U.S. and overseas and cited hundreds of convictions in New York and other cities as proof.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder sought unsuccessfully in 2009 to move the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from Guantanamo to New York for trial, and though the plan was derailed by political opposition, has since expressed vindication as the military tribunal system at Guantanamo stalled.