11.13.15

Senators Press White House for Increased Transparency on Guantanamo Detainees

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), James Inhofe (R-OK), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), are urging President Obama to adhere to his own promise of increasing transparency, a commitment on which the administration has fallen short when it comes to detainees at Guantanamo and their transfer to other countries.     

“When a detainee is transferred, the only specific information released by the Department of Defense is the detainee’s name and the name of the country to which the detainee will be transferred,” wrote the Senators. “The administration does not provide any information regarding the detainee’s previous terrorist activities and associations, previous assessments of the detainee’s risk level to the U.S. and our allies, or behavior while in detention. The administration does not provide even the most basic information regarding arrangements with the country that has agreed to receive the detainee.”

“As a result, Americans are left in the dark regarding the detainee’s potential membership in al Qaeda or its affiliates, terrorist training, or previous hostile actions against U.S. troops. The American people, and often many of their representatives in Congress, do not even know if the detainee will be detained or released once they are transferred. Without this information, it is difficult for Americans to accurately assess the wisdom of transferring these detainees,” the Senators continued. “With 30% of former Guantanamo detainees confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activity, this lack of transparency with the American people is not acceptable.”

Earlier this year, Rounds visited the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, saying after his return, “I have no doubt this is the right place to detain them - now and in the future.”  

The full text of the letter:

November 12, 2015

 

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

President Obama:

We write to express our continued concern regarding the administration’s lack of transparency with the American public regarding law of war detainees at Guantanamo and those who are being transferred or released to other nations.  In a speech delivered in May 2009, you said “I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. And that's why, whenever possible, my administration will make all information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.”  We strongly support efforts to increase the federal government’s transparency with the American people, but the administration’s actions with respect to Guantanamo detainee transfers have not been consistent with your commitment. 

When a detainee is transferred, the only specific information released by the Department of Defense is the detainee’s name and the name of the country to which the detainee will be transferred.  The administration does not provide any information regarding the detainee’s previous terrorist activities and associations, previous assessments of the detainee’s risk level to the U.S. and our allies, or behavior while in detention.  The administration does not provide even the most basic information regarding arrangements with the country that has agreed to receive the detainee. 

As a result, Americans are left in the dark regarding the detainee’s potential membership in al Qaeda or its affiliates, terrorist training, or previous hostile actions against U.S. troops.  The American people, and often many of their representatives in Congress, do not even know if the detainee will be detained or released once they are transferred.  Without this information, it is difficult for Americans to accurately assess the wisdom of transferring these detainees.  With 30% of former Guantanamo detainees confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activity, this lack of transparency with the American people is not acceptable. 

For these reasons, we ask your administration to provide unclassified answers to the following questions regarding all detainees currently at Guantanamo: 

  • Prior to detention, in what terrorist activities or training did the detainee participate?
  • Prior to detention, did the detainee engage in or support hostilities against U.S. or coalition troops?
  • Prior to detention, with which terrorist organizations was the detainee affiliated?
  • Was the detainee, at any point since being initially detained, deemed to be a high-risk threat to the United States, its interests, or its allies? 
  • While detained, has the detainee continued to express support for terrorism?
  • While detained, has the detainee assaulted Joint Task Force Guantanamo guards?

When your administration transfers detainees in the future, we ask your administration to make sure the information above has been provided to the American people and to also provide unclassified answers to these questions: 

  • Will the individual be detained by the recipient country?
  • Will the detainee be allowed to leave the destination country?

This information can be provided without revealing sensitive intelligence sources or methods.  Further, general information about the conditions of transfer can be shared publicly without undermining any legitimate concerns of the recipient countries.  Any argument that this information cannot be declassified safely and provided to the American people creates the appearance that the administration does not want the American people to know the truth about the detainees at Guantanamo and those being transferred to other countries. 

In May 2009, you made a compelling and important case for transparency.  You continue to argue that it is in the national security interests of the United States to transfer these detainees.  Based on your commitment to transparency, combined with your belief that these transfers are in our nation’s interest, it is difficult to imagine any credible justification for keeping this basic information from the American people. 

We respectfully request that your administration provide this information without delay. 

Senator Kelly Ayotte

Senator James Inhofe

Senator Tom Cotton

Senator M. Michael Rounds

Senator Thom Tillis

Senator Tim Scott

Senator Lindsey Graham

CC:      Secretary of State John F. Kerry

            Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter

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