Closing Guantanamo Bay was a major campaign promise of former US President Barack Obama. He had eight years to close it.
1. Former President Barack Obama failed to close the prison
Immediately after he took office in 2009, he created a review system designed to release a majority of remaining prisoners.
He managed to whittle the number of detainees down to 41 from 242. The last prisoner to arrive in Guantanamo was in March 2008.
Obama also said he planned to transfer the rest to a prison on US soil – but that never happened. The Republican majority in Congress blocked his efforts, making the closure of the controversial prison on Cuban territory almost impossible.
2. Trump must contend with Obama’s legacy
Obama continued to release detainees right up until his final days in office. Overall, only a small proportion of detainees were charged or tried. Indefinite detention continued under Obama.
He was criticised by many who called the prison a “stain on Obama’s legacy.”
But there were some wins for his administration. No further detainees were put into the prison during his administration – and torture was banned. Obama kept reminding the public that torture does not work, even in his final national security address.
3. Trump has long signalled that he is not on the same page as Obama
The Obama administration was under the international spotlight right until the last minute, as then-incoming President Donald Trump said he would make a U-turn on the US’ Guantanamo policy.
“This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.” Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Sparks, Nevada.
4. Trump has new plans for the camp. A draft executive order says that the US now wants to capture, not kill
A draft memo obtained by The New York Times says that “It is in the interest of the United States to continue detention operations.” Foreign Policy magazine says the Trump administration is finalising the executive order.
“The new directive indicates a shift in US counterterrorism strategy, with a renewed emphasis on capturing suspected terrorists for their intelligence value rather than killing them in targeted strikes,” according to Foreign Policy.
Prison releases are widely expected to stop under a Trump administration.
More detainees, including US citizens, might be brought to the prison, as Trump said it would be “fine” if US terror suspects were sent to Guantanamo for trial.
The future of the five prisoners who were cleared for release under the Obama administration does not look bright.
Trump’s comments indicate that an increase in detainees is in the cards for Guantanamo. This may mean that more prisoners are brought to Guantanamo without the right to due process – this sparked international outcry about the camp from its inception. The draft memo, instead, terms the camp “legal, safe and humane.”
5. Gitmo might take in Daesh suspects
The new memo also says that Daesh members might be detained – but the current law that authorises the US to detain 9/11 suspects in Guantanamo does not include Daesh. This might cause a problem when a prisoner challenges their detention.
“It raises huge legal risks,” Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and former senior Justice Department official in the Bush administration told The New York Times.
“If a judge says the September 11 authorization does not cover such a detention, it would not only make that detention unlawful, it would weaken the legal basis for the entire war against the Islamic State.”
6. Trump’s draft memo doesn’t mention torture
The latest version of the memo has dropped language ordering a review of whether the United States should bring back torture and reopen CIA “black sites.” That does not indicate the administration will not bring back torture.
In his first TV interview as president, Trump reiterated that he believes torture “absolutely” works.
“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works,” he said in November 2016.
Waterboarding is currently prohibited under US law. That has not deterred the new Republican leader from saying that if it were up to him, the tactic would be reinstated – and that he would authorise “much worse.”