• 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

  • Lifestyle

    Caribou masks capture spirit of Nunamiut culture

    by Heather Hintze on May 26, 20:39

    Caribou mask making is an intricate artform Lela Ahgook has honed over time. At 72 years old, she’s now an elder in Anaktuvuk Pass, where she’s been doing it since the 1960s. “Every piece of the caribou is here,” she pointed out where she used the hoof on the forehead of a mask lined with […]

  • News

    Safety Fair teaches outdoor safety to new military members

    by Bonney Bowman on May 26, 20:15

    Memorial Day weekend means it’s time to get outside and enjoy Alaska, but without the right skills and equipment exploring the backcountry can be risky – especially for people new to the state, like many soldiers and airmen stationed at JBER. Today the base held the 4th annual Occupational and Recreational Safety Fair, aimed at […]

  • News

    Anchorage doctor accused of overprescribing painkillers fights to keep license

    by Shannon Ballard on May 26, 19:45

    The Alaska State Medical Board has accused an Anchorage doctor of writing dangerous and potentially lethal prescriptions for his patients. The state suspended Dr. Mahmood Ahmad’s license earlier this month. On Thursday, he began his fight to appeal the decision and ultimately keep practicing in Alaska. Ahmad sat quietly as the first witness testified via […]

  • On-Air

    Reality Check w/ John Tracy: The real reason to observe Memorial Day

    by John Tracy on May 26, 16:48

    I don’t know what you’re doing this Memorial Day, but chances are it will bear little resemblance to the reason we observe it. Whether you consider it the official start of summer, or the time to get a great deal on an appliance, the origins of the holiday can be traced to one of the […]

  • Weather

    Dangerous fire conditions across southcentral Alaska this weekend

    by KTVA 11 News on May 26, 16:45

    A fire weather watch has been issued for the Susitna Valley and Copper River Basin for the Memorial Day weekend. The watch goes into effect on Friday afternoon and continues through Saturday evening. Over the weekend, temperatures are forecast to climb into the 60s and 70s across southcentral Alaska. The warming temperatures, along with low relative […]

  • Politics

    Trump agrees to debate Sanders; Fox News is ‘interested’

    by Associated Press on May 26, 16:10

    WASHINGTON (AP) – Donald Trump is welcoming Bernie Sanders’ proposal that they meet in a debate but is setting a high price for participating. His condition: The hosting TV network would have to put up millions of dollars for charity. Representatives for Fox News and ABC News say the networks are “interested” in hosting such […]

  • Crime

    Drunk man steals front end loader, smashes it into liquor store and runs from police

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 26, 12:51

      ANCHORAGE — An intoxicated man led Anchorage police on a chase early Thursday morning after stealing a front end loader from a construction site, then crashing it into a liquor store and stealing booze. Police were called to the Brown Jug Liquor store at 2200 Northern Lights Blvd. around 3:20 a.m. Thursday after a […]

  • Crime

    Two men arrested in connection with East Anchorage shootings

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 26, 12:25

    The Anchorage Police Department has arrested and charged two men in connection with two East Anchorage shootings Thursday. According to a release from APD, both shootings happened just after 11 a.m. Thursday. Police said they were first notified of an incident involving a gun at the 4300 block of E. 9th Avenue. Police were told […]