President Donald Trump is preparing to sign an executive order that would reverse an Obama-era directive to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a draft document obtained by POLITICO.
Trump is expected to announce plans to sign the order during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, or in the days before or after the address, a person familiar with the issue said.
The executive order, according to a draft State Department cable that officials are planning to soon send to U.S. embassies around the world, would rescind part of a separate 2009 order signed by then-President Barack Obama mandating that the facility be “closed as soon as practicable.”
The order has limited practical effect: Obama was never able to make good on the order amid resistance from members of Congress, who blocked his efforts to move detainees to prisons in the United States and raised concerns that released inmates could revert back to terrorism. However, Obama moved nearly 200 Guantanamo inmates to the custody of foreign countries during his presidency. Just 41 detainees remain in the facility today.
But for Trump, it is a powerful political statement. Trump promised during the presidential campaign to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention center open, saying in February 2016 he wanted to “load it up with bad dudes.” Last year, he said he was considering sending a man who rammed a truck into people in New York City to the facility.
It is also a rebuke to Trump’s predecessor, Obama, who worked for years to close the detention center, which he warned was a recruitment tool for terrorist groups. In a sign of his commitment to the issue, Obama signed his executive order on his second full day as president.
Trump has yet to send any captured terrorist to the controversial detention camp, and the cable suggests that is not about to change.
“At this time, we are not aware of any plans to bring additional detainees to Guantanamo Bay,” the cable says.
The draft cable instructs U.S. diplomats to begin informing officials from other countries about the executive order after the State of the Union speech, though embassies in London, Paris, Berlin and a few other cities can begin filling in foreign governments on Monday “with the request that they should not discuss the matter publicly until after the address.”
The cable includes talking points designed to assuage the concerns of allies likely to criticize Trump’s decision. The facility is reviled in Europe and beyond as a symbol of U.S. excess in the fight against terrorists and the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques that critics equate with torture.
“The E.O. does not signal a significant policy shift with respect to detentions,” the cable says. “Rather, it affirms Guantanamo Bay will continue to remain open and serve as one of several options the United States maintains for the detention of terrorists.”
Trump’s new directive would also repeal language from Obama’s 2009 order which said any detainees should be “returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility” at the time of Guantanamo’s planned closure.
In addition, the cable notes that Trump’s executive order will direct the Defense Department, in consultation with the State Department and other agencies, to “recommend criteria to the President for determining detention disposition outcomes for individuals captured on the battlefield.”
“Currently, the United States employs a number of different options for disposition, including transferring individuals to host governments or pursuing prosecution in a U.S. court. These remain viable options,” the cable continues.
The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
José Ruiz, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami that runs the prison, directed inquiries about the proposed policy to the White House.
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