Pentagon report stirs fresh debate on closing of prison at Guantánamo Bay

The first unclassified report on the suspected military backgrounds of Guantánamo Bay prisoners tells the stories of 107 detainees.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File
Dawn arrives at the now closed Camp X-Ray, which was used as the first detention facility for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants who were captured after the Sept. 11 attacks at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

The Pentagon has released the first unclassified report on the suspected military backgrounds of Guantánamo Bay prisoners. The report, which was obtained by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire, has triggered renewed debate over closing the military prison.

In November, President Obama signed the 2016 defense policy bill, which requires the administration to provide more information about Guantánamo Bay’s 76 prisoners. The new report tells the stories of 107 detainees who were imprisoned as of the bill’s signing.

Karim Bostan, a former flower shop owner, was accused of running an Al Qaeda-affiliated explosives cell targeting coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan. Bostan has been detained at Guantánamo for over 13 years, but has been cleared for transfer to a country willing to accept him.

"While the Department of Defense watered down information and failed to provide key details regarding some detainees, the report still provides Americans with a consolidated, unclassified source of information regarding the dangerous terrorists at Guantánamo who the administration has recently released or plans to release soon," Senator Ayotte said in an email to the Associated Press.

Ayotte has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration, calling for more transparency about prison releases. She believes that Guantánamo detainees present a high risk for re-engagement in terrorism.

But the report also describes low-level militants, many detained for over a decade without charge.

Muhammad Said Salim Bin Salman is a Yemeni national who traveled to Afghanistan for Al Qaeda training. But he claims he never fought, and instead became a cook. He was detained for 14 years, until intelligence agencies assessed him as a medium risk and he was transferred to Oman.

David Remes, a human rights lawyer who represents several detainees, has called for the release of non-dangerous prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. He and other critics of the military prison argue that indefinite detention is incompatible with US values.

"Holding the men at all was a deep injustice and a lasting stain on the U.S. These men shouldn't have been in Guantánamo in the first place," Remes said. "It's one thing to prosecute detainees for attacks on the U.S.... It is quite another thing – and contrary to the values the US says it is committed to – to hold men for many years, who are accused of no crime."

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 5 percent of Guantánamo prisoners released during Mr. Obama’s presidency have re-engaged in militant activities. During the Bush administration, the agency confirmed 21 percent had re-engaged.

During his presidential campaign, Obama had promised to close Guantánamo Bay before leaving office. In 2006, the military prison held about 240 prisoners. Since then, 162 have been released to other countries. 34 of the remaining prisoners have been cleared for transfer, says Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.

Republican lawmakers have accused Obama of downgrading detainees’ threat status in a rush to close the prison. Congress, which is composed of a GOP majority, has made efforts to slow detainee transfers.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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