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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

Closing Guantanamo 'National Security Imperative,' Official Says

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2015 – The question on closing the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not whether to do it, but rather is how to do it, a senior Defense Department official said on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Brian P. McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is among the defense and national security officials who agree the Guantanamo detention center weakens U.S. national security and should be closed.

"Senior figures across the political spectrum have made clear that Guantanamo poses risks to our national security and should be closed," he added, noting that former defense secretaries Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta also support the detention center's closure.

National Security Imperative

McKeon said President Barack Obama has determined that closing the Guantanamo detention facility is a national security imperative.

"The president and his national security team believe that the continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and is used by violent extremists to incite local populations," McKeon said.

It's "no coincidence" that hostages being killed in recent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant videos have been dressed in orange jumpsuits, "believed by many to be the symbol of the Guantanamo detention facility," McKeon said.

Efforts Being Made

Rigorous interagency efforts led to determinations for Guantanamo detainees to be approved for transfer, prosecution or further review, or for further Law of War detention, McKeon said.

Six years ago, the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay was 242, he said. "Today, because of the work of the task force and subsequent efforts, 122 detainees remain," he added. "Of these, 54 are eligible for transfer, 10 are being prosecuted or have been sentenced, and 58 are being reviewed by the periodic review process."

In nearly two years as defense secretary, McKeon said, Hagel authorized the transfer of 44 detainees: 11 who were transferred in 2013, 28 who were transferred last year, and five who have been transferred this year. The "great majority" of the transfers the secretary authorized occurred under the authorities of Section 1035 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, McKeon said. "We urge you to maintain these authorities," he told the senators.

Potential Re-engagement

A primary concern of transferring detainees, McKeon said, is whether they will return to the fight or otherwise re-engage in terrorism. "We take the possibility of a re-engagement very seriously," he said. "The most recent public data on re-engagement of former detainees was released last September, and the data are current as of July 15, 2014."

Data provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, McKeon said, indicates 17.3 percent have been confirmed as re-engaging, and 12.4 percent are suspected of re-engaging.

"Before January 2009," he added, "that is, those transferred in the last administration -- the numbers show 19 percent confirmed and 14.3 percent suspected of re-engaging, for a total of 33 percent. The data after January 2009 shows that 6.8 percent confirmed of re-engaging, six out of 88 transfers, 1.1 percent suspected, for a total of 7.9 [percent]."

In other words, he said, the rate of re-engagement has been much lower for those transferred since 2009, which he said attests to the rigor of this new process.

McKeon credited the downturn in re-engagement to careful scrutiny of the detainee transfer review process and subsequent security measures.

"Re-engagement is not a free pass," he said. "We take any reports of suspected or confirmed re-engagement very seriously and work in close coordination with our partners to mitigate re-engagement or take follow-on action."

Closer to Goal

McKeon said many officials have worked toward the objective of closing Guantanamo, and "we are closer to this goal than many people may think."

"The president and the national security experts of this administration believe it should be closed," he said, "as do the senior military leaders and civilian leadership of the Department of Defense. We believe the issue is not whether to close Guantanamo. The issue is how to do it."

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