Sasha Pfeiffer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Biden discussed on All Things Considered

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This is all things considered from NPR News. I'm Sasha Pfeiffer, now to one of the country's most notorious detention facilities. The U. S military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lawyers for some of the 40 prisoners still being held there say many of them have been on a hunger strike for nearly a month. They're frustrated because President Biden has said he wants to shut down Gitmo, Yet they remain behind bars. Most of them have spent years there without being charged, and some have been cleared for release but still not let go. So what's the holdup? And what would it take to close it for? Good For this? We've called Lee Wolosky. He was special envoy for Guantanamo under President Obama and served on the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush League Wolosky. Welcome to the program. Great to be here, Sasha. I want to start with something really basic. Because in my view, Gitmo is largely forgotten by the general public. Would you remind our listeners why there was a U. S military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Sure, the military prison at Guantanamo was set up in 2000 and two as as U. S forces swept through Afghanistan. And started rounding up individuals that we found on the battlefield. Essentially, without any clear sense. In many cases of who they were. We brought them to Guantanamo. And that was the population of Guantanamo was subsequently expanded when we apprehended individuals who we believe to be responsible for the 9 11 attacks and another terrorist attacks. You are a vocal advocate that it should be closed. Why do you think it should be closed first? It's extraordinarily expensive. We spend about $13 million per detainee pretty year. Second. It's this clear stigma. To the image of the United States, and it serves as a recruitment vehicle for extremist organizations. And third, it is increasingly frankly, just a relic of the past. That house is increasingly geriatric detainees, the oldest of whom is in his Early seventies on as of President Baden takes United States out of Afghanistan. I think it's an appropriate time to revisit other relics of that previous era, and, frankly, that previous threat environment which no longer really exists, at least in the same fashion if it did. When Guantanamo was established when you were Obama's Guantanamo envoy, you were part of the team that tried and failed to close Gitmo. What do you consider the main reason Obama was unable to do that? The main one and then we can talk about some specific hurdles? Well, we actually did a reasonably good job in getting out of Guantanamo. All the detail Almost all the detainees who The U. S government concluded no longer needed to remain in U. S custody. What we didn't do is figure out how to overcome a law that purports to prevent the president. From moving any detainees in Guantanamo to the United States s so that they could be detained in the United States on perhaps tried in the United States. That has really served to prevent President Obama from closing Guantanamo and continues to pose a significant obstacle to any any efforts that President Biden might undertake to close the facility. The State Department used to have an office your old office that negotiated transfers of Guantanamo prisoners to other countries, But President Trump eliminated that office. Do you believe that office needs to be reopened in order to move prisoners to other countries and close down Gitmo? Yes, it it probably does. There are 66 of the 40, who remain in Guantanamo are currently eligible to be transferred outside the custody of the United States. On. There's really no reason to delay transferring them out of the United States of U. S custody that that is a job that would have been undertaken by my former office which, as you point out, no longer exists, but which I understand may be reconstituted. And there are other options to even for individuals who are not cleared to be released. Currently, there is the possibility that foreign countries may choose to prosecute them or that they may choose to serve prison sentences outside the United States. That, too is undertaking there could be made by by the State Department. Is it hard to find other countries willing to take these men? Yeah, I mean, they have ended up in many places where friends and partners of the United States agreed. Assed, part of a collective undertaking to fight Al Qaeda to resettle detainees that had been detained by the United States. The country's really range from countries in the Gulf. Two countries in Europe countries in South America. The U. S seems to have acknowledged that some Guantanamo prisoners never belonged there in the first place. But others, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed face strong evidence that they were involved in planning or financing the 9 11 attacks so they will probably spend the rest of their lives in prison somewhere. If they don't remain in Gitmo. Where do you think people like KSM should go? And how should they be dealt with well chaos and currently faces the capital charge death penalty. The problem is that the military commission process has proven to be extraordinarily slow. In putting him and others on trial. That's probably understatement. I mean, it's been close to two decades, and there's been no trial. Yeah, that's exactly right, you know, and years ago Do you actually expect? Get Mo to be totally out of operation by the time Biden leaves office? I do. I think the president is committed to closing Guantanamo. You say you think Biden will do it? But again, Obama was unable to. So why would Biden be able to, particularly in this current political climate? Well, I'm hoping that the Congress will see the logic of closing down of facility which really is a relic of another era, which is harm the image of the United States in which is currently extraordinarily expensive to the U. S taxpayer Get Been available alternatives and will choose to repeal the law that prevents Guantanamo detainees from entering the United States, including for purposes of serving a prison sentence here in one of our prisons. That I think is the proper pathway.

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