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Guantanamo: Biden appoints senior diplomat to oversee detainee transfers, report says

The move by the administration is one quiet step closer to fulfilling a campaign promise to close the detention centre
Around $540m of US taxpayer money is spent each year to hold the prisoners at Guantanamo.
Around $540m of US taxpayers' money is spent each year to hold prisoners at Guantanamo (AFP/File photo)

The Biden administration has appointed a senior diplomat to oversee the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, in a quiet step towards fulfilling a campaign promise to finally close the prison, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

Biden's new special representative is Tina Kaidanow, a former ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The administration has also signalled that it will not interfere with plea negotiations that could resolve the long-stalled prosecution of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants.

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There are currently 36 men being held at Guantanamo Bay, 20 of whom have been approved for transfer, while five are in indefinite detention. Ten are awaiting trial and two have been convicted, including Majid Khan, who has finished his sentence and is in need of a country to be transferred to.

As for the other detainees not eligible for transfer, a lengthy military commissions process has been in place for the past two decades.

Many experts previously told Middle East Eye that this process has failed to achieve justice, neither for the victims of the 9/11 attacks nor the men who were brought to the prison.

Around $540m of US taxpayers' money is spent each year to hold the prisoners at Guantanamo, equal to $13m per prisoner, according to a 2019 report from The New York Times.

Some critics of the Biden administration's policy on Guantanamo say that its efforts to close the prison have been delayed by other issues, including newer crises that have been occupying the national security staff.

"Holding people without charge or trial for years on end cannot be reconciled with the values we espouse as a nation, and has deprived the victims of 9/11 and their families of any semblance of justice or closure," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin told the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is moving ahead with a project to build a third courtroom at Guantanamo Bay at a cost of $4m, even though no additional trials are expected at the naval base, which has raised concerns that Biden's goal of closing the prison will not be fulfilled.

A military commissions spokesman told the Wall Street Journal an "extensive expansion" of Guantanamo's trial facilities, including a new courtroom, would allow military judges to hold "simultaneous multi-defendant, lengthy trials".

Despite its stated goal of closing the prison, late last year the Biden administration issued a statement criticising certain restrictions regarding Guantanamo.

The White House said that a number of provisions in the annual defence spending bill "unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release".

The Guantanamo provisions in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which have been in place for years, say that Biden cannot use funds to transfer detainees to "certain countries". Those countries are Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania released a near 200-page report that provided a road map to closing the facility. The report was drafted by national security experts, including former Guantanamo military prosecutors and defence lawyers, and recommends abolishing the military commissions and resolving the remaining trials through plea bargains.

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