First Gitmo transfer of Biden administration likely to revive debate

Repatriation was initially approved in the Obama administration

The future of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military prison, subject to debate for decades, could be re-upped due to a Biden administration move to transfer a detainee.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The future of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military prison, subject to debate for decades, could be re-upped due to a Biden administration move to transfer a detainee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 19, 2021 at 11:39am

The debate over the future of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba will likely be back in the spotlight this week after the Biden administration announced Monday that it had repatriated a detainee from the military facility for the first time since President Joe Biden took office.

Abdul Latif Nasir has been repatriated to Morocco.

The Periodic Review Board, which reviews detainee cases to determine when holding detainees under the law of war is no longer considered necessary for national security reasons, had actually adjudicated the Nasir case back in 2016. But as senior administration officials were explaining Monday, the process wasn’t completed before President Barack Obama left office. Former President Donald Trump shifted U.S. policy and halted transfers.

There were a handful of detainees who had been cleared for transfer who had their cases effectively frozen when Trump took office. Nasir’s return to Morocco is the first clear case of reversal from the Trump administration policy.

“The Administration is dedicated to following a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population of the Guantánamo facility while also safeguarding the security of the United States and its allies,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

After the Pentagon and State Department made their announcement, a senior administration official told reporters the administration was committed to “ultimately closing” the Guantánamo facility.

The official didn’t get into specifics when asked whether Monday’s announcement represented the beginning of a broader acceleration, with 39 detainees remaining at the military prison camp that was established to hold detainees captured on the battlefield after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“Ten detainees have been recommended for transfer by the Periodic Review Board,” the official said. “We are continuing to rely on that PRB process to determine whether law of war detention remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the U.S., but for those detainees that have been recommended for transfer, the administration is very much focused on looking to pursue transfer.”

Efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay prison facility have long been stalled, and Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., recently said he didn’t think the U.S. was close to shutting it down.

“There’s still a reluctance, particularly among many of my colleagues on the other side, to bring these prisoners under jurisdiction of a federal court. By the way, that’s where we’ve convicted most of the terrorists that we’ve captured. And then the legal situation has been so confused over the last 20 years in terms of, you know, what’s the proper procedure,” Reed said July 11 on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.