Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday he is getting a plan ready for President Barack Obama that would transfer some detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison to a secure facility in the United States, with prisons in Colorado reportedly being the most likely locations.
Carter’s announcement is part of an Obama administration effort to close Guantanamo, which the president promised to do in his 2008 campaign. The announcement follows the United States’ move to send ten Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to Oman, bringing the detention camp’s total population to less than 100.
Many lawmakers and commentators have expressed legal and security concerns over bringing detainees to the U.S. homeland.
CNN’s Jake Tapper said on Thursday he was “confused” about the Pentagon’s plan “because it has been the law of the land since the beginning of the Obama presidency, when Democrats controlled Congress, that these detainees cannot be transferred from Gitmo to the United States.”
He then asked Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, “How can the Obama administration transfer them without breaking the law?”
“Really good question, isn’t it?” Starr said. She added there are about 30 more detainees the administration could transfer overseas before “getting down to the really hardcore—the top leadership from the 9/11 era that are never getting transferred.”
She said that Colorado is the most likely place to receive the detainees.
“Could Obama [transfer them] by some sort of executive order?” Starr asked. “That’s one theory. But—and it’s a big but—he still needs to get Congress to authorize the money to appropriate the money and the funds to do this.”
Starr reported that John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he wants to see the Pentagon’s plan before making a decision on the issue.
Tapper added that House Speaker Paul Ryan said this week “he’s worried that President Obama might be about to command the military to break the law.”
The White House expressed enthusiasm Thursday for reducing the number of detainees at Guantanamo to the current total of 93 from 242 when the president took office.
President Obama has said terrorists use Guantanamo, which opened in 2002, as a key part of their propaganda for recruitment, but many experts who study jihadist propaganda disagree with that assertion.
The president and his supporters have also said the detention facility is not in keeping with American values as another reason why it should be closed.
Others argue the detainees at Guantanamo are treated well and say the facility is necessary for U.S. national security to hold enemy combatants who have helped jihadist groups like al Qaeda and gather information. Gen. John Kelly, who runs Guantanamo as the head of U.S. Southern Command, recently gave a detailed account of how soldiers there ensure the detainees receive exceptional care.
Another fear with releasing detainees is that they will return to the battlefield to fight the United States as they did prior to getting captured. Some experts say the recidivism rate is 30 percent, a figure critics argue is too high to risk releasing terrorist suspects.
There are three specific prisons in Colorado to which the Pentagon has been looking to move the terror suspects.