The Obama administration is renewing its push to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, asking key lawmakers to lift restrictions on transferring detainees off the island.
Top administration officials argue that the facility remains a terrorist recruiting tool and that shuttering the facility will save the U.S. millions.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent a letter to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee last week offering evidence that the continued detention of terror suspects there has been used by al Qaeda to boost their recruitment ranks.
In a letter addressed to Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Clapper said al Qaeda and its affiliates continued to reference the detention facility and “reported mistreatment” of detainees at Guantanamo Bay “in furtherance of their global jihadist narratives.”
Clapper said that in July, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also made an audio statement citing detention without trial as “one indication of American hypocrisy and indiscriminate prosecution of innocent Muslims.”
In another incident, an article in al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine's June issue about the Boston bombings highlighted “the ongoing detention of prisoners at GTMO as one of the purported justifications to engage in jihad,” he said.
“In an effort to disrupt the narratives, I support the president's priority of closing the detention facility,” Clapper said in the letter dated Nov. 12.
Secretary of State John Kerry sent separate letters to the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Senate this week plans to consider a defense authorization bill that loosens restrictions on the administration transferring detainees out of Guantanamo Bay. The House version contains several prohibitions on the administration's ability to repatriate detainees or transfer them to the U.S. for trial or further detention, and several Senate Republicans have said they, too, will try to add limits in the coming days during floor consideration of the measure.
Kerry told the lawmakers that the continued operation of Gitmo undermines U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and asked them to support a Senate measure giving the administration more flexibility for detainee transfers.
“The continued operation of the Guantanamo facility damages U.S. diplomatic relations and our standing in the world,” he said. “It undermines America's indispensable leadership on human rights and other critical foreign policy and national security matters.”
Specifically, he said, the facility impedes joint counterterrorism efforts with “friends and allies.”
Even more than the diplomatic costs, Kerry also pointed out that maintaining the prison costs U.S. taxpayers more than $2.7 million per detainee each year — “far more than our super maximum security prisons that safely and securely hold the most dangerous inmates in the world, including convicted terrorists."
“As both detainees and facilities age, these costs will sharply increase,” he added.
The White House on Monday reaffirmed Obama's intention to close Guantanamo Bay despite the many hurdles that remain.
“It is still absolutely the administration’s firm commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. “The facility continues to drain our resources ... and it harms our national security.”
Carney said the Obama administration plans to continue transferring detainees to other countries “to the greatest extent possible.”
The administration is in talks with the Yemeni government and is working with the United Nations to establish a rehabilitation center outside the capital of Sanaa to help transition detainees from that country back to freedom.
Chambliss, citing a recidivism rate of 28 percent for Guantanamo Bay detainees returning to the battlefield, is urging the Obama administration to abandon any effort to help close the facility by sending detainees back to their home country of Yemen.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., says she plans to offer an amendment that would prevent any transfers of detainees to Yemen.