Share This Page

Troop withdrawal could force Gitmo decision

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 6:45 p.m.
The terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, remains in function almost five years after President Obama ordered its closure.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A persistent knock came from inside the heavy, locked cell door.

A young U.S. Army guard strode over and leaned in to hear the detainee through a shatterproof window.

“What do you want?” the guard asked, not unkindly, in one of the many daily moments in which suspected terrorists demand to be dealt with as their lives hang in legal limbo.

During nearly 12 years of legal disputes and political battles, the United States has put off deciding the fate of al-Qaida and Taliban militants who were captured after the 9/11 attacks but denied quick or full access to the American justice system.

Now, as Congress considers whether to grant trials and transfers to most detainees, time may be running out on the law that allows the United States to hold them.

The 2001 law is known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF. It allowed the U.S. military to invade Afghanistan to pursue, detain and punish extremists linked to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The law has been used to justify attacks on militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

Will it remain valid if U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 — whether thousands stay as trainers or if the United States pulls out entirely? That's an open legal question that, officials and experts say, must be resolved over the next year.

“The jury is still out on when the AUMF might expire,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman. “Many argue that's not set.”

If U.S. troops withdraw, “it certainly increases the pressure, as some administration officials have argued, to decide whether the AUMF should remain in effect as is, or if a new version is necessary,” Breasseale said in a statement.

In 2009, on the second day of his presidency, Obama ordered the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be closed within one year. Obama long has decried the facility, where critics say detainees have been abused, interrogated and held illegally, as a blow to American values and credibility worldwide.

Opponents in Congress refuse to let the detainees be tried in the United States, citing security risks to Americans. Lawmakers have blocked the transfer and resettlement of most of the remaining detainees to other nations, fearing they will return to terrorist havens upon their release. Nearly 30 percent of Guantanamo detainees who have been released have since resumed the fight.

Today, 164 detainees are held at Guantanamo, down from a peak of about 660 a decade ago. Most were tried, transferred or cleared for release under President George W. Bush. Seventy-eight have left since Obama took office.

The sprawling camp of barbed wire and hardened cell blocks costs taxpayers about $454 million each year; that comes to about $2.7 million per detainee.

The facility shows no signs of shutting down beyond a temporary budget freeze on the detainees' library, where well-worn copies of the Quran, the “Hunger Games” series and Obama's book, “The Audacity of Hope,” are among the 6,000 titles available for reading.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.