U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he had ordered Secretary of Defense James Mattis to maintain the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and to re-examine the policy on detaining terrorism suspects.
Gitmo currently houses 41 detainees, including five who are facing a military trial for their alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks.
During the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump said: “I just signed, prior to walking in, an order directing Secretary Mattis, who is doing a great job, thank you to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay.”
“I am asking Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them, it will now be Guantanamo Bay.”
According to the White House, the order rescinds one by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, that ordered the closing of the detention facilities at Gitmo, and “affirms that the United States maintains the option to detain additional enemy combatants at GTMO when necessary.”
Obama issued the order on his second day in office but was never able to convince Congress to transfer the detainees to U.S. soil. Obama’s executive order also granted the Red Cross access to the detainees and limited interrogation techniques to those in the U.S. Army Field Manual.
“We do not have any individuals currently identified for transfer to GTMO,” Department of Defense spokesperson Cmdr. Sarah Higgins told The Defense Post on Wednesday.
Trump’s order further requires Mattis to “recommend criteria” for determining disposition outcomes of people the U.S. captures in connection with armed conflict, “including criteria for transfer” to Gitmo.
Trump had repeatedly pledged to keep the detention center open and to “load it up with some bad dudes.”
A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson confirmed to The Defense Post that there has been no guidance issued to change the status of any individuals in the Middle East.
“While that doesn’t preclude future developments, there are no changes at this time,” the spokesperson said.
The order also maintains the option to release detainees under a periodic review program set up by the Pentagon.
Trump’s authority to issue the order comes from the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a 2001 law that gives the U.S. president authority “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
ISIS foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria
A number of foreign nationals accused of fighting with ISIS have been captured by U.S. partners in Syria and Iraq and are held by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces.
They include an unidentified American citizen currently detained in Iraq. “John Doe,” who surrendered to the SDF last year, is currently challenging the conditions of his detention with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to the ACLU, “Doe” has been classified as an enemy combatant, which would allow him to be detained indefinitely or perhaps to be transferred to Gitmo.