• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
5m 48s

More Guantanamo Bay detainees set to leave amid Bergdahl swap furor

By CBS/AP 10:54 AM June 8, 2014

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Some of the men held here for more than a decade have been drafting plans for work and marriage on the outside or studying languages, preparing for a not-too-distant future beyond the coiled razor wire that surrounds the U.S. prison perched at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

Until the past week, they had good reason to believe their ticket out might be imminent, if not home then at least to another country. President Barack Obama and others in the administration say they are committed to closing the Guantanamo detention center and military officials say they can resume transfers at a moment’s notice, just as they did with the May 31 swap of five Guantanamo inmates for a captured American soldier.

“All I need is the names and a country and we could do it all very, very efficiently,” the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, said in an interview Saturday at the start of a visit to the base he oversees.

But the current furor over the trade of the five Taliban prisoners for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may have complicated the situation.

The deal to swap Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years in Afghanistan, was brokered by the Obama White House without consulting Congress. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who initially praised Bergdahl’s release have since backed off amid an outcry over the exchange, including questions about whether he walked away from his post before he was captured.

Congress plans hearings on the exchange for the five prisoners, who officials here say were leaders inside the detention center as well as in the Taliban. Any immediate transfers of other inmates are likely to further inflame members of Congress, much to the dismay of attorneys for some of the 71 prisoners awaiting transfer after a security review.

Before anyone can be released, the Obama administration must obtain security and humane treatment assurances with the home country or repatriation agreements for third countries, a time-consuming process even before the required 30-day notice to Congress, which eased the restrictions on transfers last year but still bars sending any of the men to the United States.

“It’s unfortunate that cleared people may well suffer because of the backlash over this,” said Cori Crider, an attorney for the British legal rights group Reprieve who represents several men approved for transfer. “I hope the more sensible people in Congress – as well as the White House and the Defense Department who recognize that it’s time to get this done, that it’s a stain on America’s image – aren’t going to be bullied.”

The U.S. currently holds 149 men at Guantanamo. They include five prisoners charged with planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack who face trial by military commission, as well as a handful of others being prosecuted. Most have been held without charge since the government began taking prisoners suspected of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban at the Navy base on the southeastern edge of Cuba in January 2002.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that too much has been made of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

“We have have built these people up into giants,” Friedman said. “I’m going to sleep well tonight whether these guys whether these guys are in Qatar, whether they’re in the Ritz there, or whether they’re around the block.”

Appearing on the same show, conservative pundit Peggy Noonan said her main concern was that the Obama administration did not appear to have a plan for what to do with the men who were released in terms of assuring they would not become problems down the line.

To Kelly, men held here are “some of the most despicable and dangerous men on the planet,” as he put it in an impassioned speech Saturday night praising the troops who guard prisoners during a ball held at the base to mark the founding of the U.S. Army in June 1775.

The general declined in an interview with The Associated Press to discuss the exchange for Bergdahl. He did say the five Taliban were influential at Guantanamo. They were held in the communal unit known as Camp 6, where detainees can while away their time with up to 18 hours of recreation per day, including more than 100 satellite TV channels and other privileges as long as they follow the rules.

“These guys were leaders but they were smart leaders,” Kelly said. “They liked the easy lifestyle of the communal (unit) and encouraging other members of the detention population to act out.”

Attorney Ramzi Kassem, who has represented prisoners at Guantanamo for nearly a decade, said he was told by one client that just before the five Taliban were transferred the prison was locked down in unusually tight security for what they were told was the approach of a hurricane.

“The prisoners saw right through that and knew something big was up,” said Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York. “Within a day or two of the event, everyone knew.”

The mood appeared calm on Saturday, the first time a journalist was allowed inside the detention center since the swap. Prisoners were seen in Camp 6, where nearly 80 men are held, listening to headphones and chatting in a communal pod. There were no obvious signs of strife in Camp 5, which is used for prisoners who are considered “non-compliant” and holds about 60-70 men in a stricter, single-cell environment. Journalists are not permitted to see Camp 7, home to the Sept. 11 defendants and others deemed “high-value” by the Pentagon.

The release of the five Taliban has created a sense of optimism, at least for now, said the prison’s Muslim cultural affairs adviser, who can only be identified by the nickname “Zak,” under military security rules. “They are looking at it as what could be the opening of the door for future transfers,” he said. “They are just analyzing it like everybody else.”

Kassem said he wants to see the Obama administration “bear down on the Defense Department” and resume transfers. “It is sickening that some politicians are trying to scapegoat Guantanamo prisoners who have been cleared for release,” he said.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Italy grieves with emotional mass funeral for earthquake victims

    by Associated Press on Aug 28, 12:44

    Mourners in Italy prayed, hugged, wept and even applauded as coffins carrying victims of the country’s devastating earthquakepassed by at a state funeral Saturday, grieving as one nation after three desperate days of trying to save as many people as possible. In the central town of Ascoli Piceno, they gathered to bid farewell to 35 of the […]

  • Crime

    Convict missing from halfway house since Friday, police say

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Aug 28, 12:22

    A man convicted on a drug charge has been missing from a halfway house since Friday, according to the Anchorage Police Department. Online court records show 44-year-old Arnold Romero was convicted in 2014 of manufacturing and delivering controlled substances and was serving at least part of his sentence at the Glenwood Center on D Street. […]

  • Crime

    APD: 2 homicide victims found in Valley of the Moon Park

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Aug 28, 10:50

    The Anchorage Police Department is investigating two homicides that were discovered early Sunday morning in Valley of the Moon Park. Someone called police just before 2 a.m. to report they had found a body on the bike path in the park, according to a statement from APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad. When police arrived, they began […]

  • News

    10,000th Syrian reaches US this week in resettlement program

    by Associated Press on Aug 28, 10:31

    The U.S. ambassador to Jordan says Washington will reach its target Monday of taking in 10,000 Syrian war refugees in a yearlong resettlement program. The program emerged as an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Republican nominee Donald Trump alleging in the past that displaced Syrians constitute a potential security threat. Ambassador Alice Wells […]

  • Sports

    Saturday game results for week 3 of Alaska high school football

    by Dave Goldman on Aug 27, 23:03

    Wild scene at Eagle River-Wolves win their first topping Barrow 22-20. 25 yard FG by Andrew Hamilton the difference. pic.twitter.com/ORixoUm36s — KTVA 11 Sports (@KTVASports) August 28, 2016   Eagle River 22  Barrow 20 Andrew Hamilton’s 25-yard field goal with under three minutes remaining gave the Eagle High School Wolves their first win of the […]

  • News

    Crews slow Matanuska River erosion

    by Eric Ruble on Aug 27, 22:56

    Construction crews are making progress on fighting erosion along the Matanuska River. Matanuska-Susitna Borough Emergency Services Director Bill Gamble called the situation “critical” Friday. On Saturday, however, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and its contractors were heaping massive loads of rock onto the edge of the river. They were also digging a […]

  • News

    Anchorage pilot dies in Oregon air show crash

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Aug 27, 22:16

    Marcus Paine, a pilot based out of Anchorage, died in a plane crash at an airshow in Madras, Oregon on Saturday. The Airshow of the Cascades website stated Marcus Paine died during his Saturday afternoon performance. “The Paine family and the airshow community appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” an air show […]

  • Lifestyle

    Bethel physician Dr. Jill Seaman on splitting her time between Alaska and South Sudan

    by Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK on Aug 27, 18:26

    This story originated from KYUK Public Media and was republished with permission. A Bethel physician is getting ready to return to South Sudan and the medical organization she’s helped run there since the 1980s. Dr. Jill Seaman spends about four months a year in Bethel working at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. Then she travels to Old Fangak, […]