Moving Guantanamo detainees to U.S. would be logistical headache

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Even if Congress approved a move of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, the government would still have to clear a series of logistical hurdles that the Government Accountability Office details in a new report.

The GAO says it's plausible that the detainees could move to Defense Department correctional facilities. The DoD operates six within the United States that can confine servicemembers for more than a year. As of August, they were only about 48 percent full on average, the GAO says in a report (.pdf) released Nov. 29.

But U.S. law forbids the confinement of members of the military alongside foreign nationals. That means DoD would have to relocate its existing inmates, though it could potentially do so within the same facilities, the GAO says.

Additionally, the DoD facilities don't treat complex medical conditions on site, and it would likely be an ordeal to securely transport ex-Guantanamo detainees to hospitals.

For security reasons, DoD is careful to keep the identities of its personnel at Guantanamo Bay private. But that might be harder to do at domestic facilities where DoD personnel and inmates regularly interact. It's also much easier for DoD to make sure visitors to Guantanamo Bay aren't security threats, since it's geographically isolated. At domestic DoD facilities, inmates' family and friends regularly visit.

To transfer its intelligence operations from Guantanamo Bay, DoD would have to set up secure workspaces and recording equipment that don't exist at its domestic correctional facilities.

The GAO also considered the Justice Department's federal prisons as venues for the detainees to relocate to. As of August, those prisons housed 377 inmates who were either charged with or convicted of crimes related to terrorism, or who had other connections to terrorism.

The DOJ would have to change its policies and build new infrastructure to accommodate the Guantanamo detainees. To start, the department would need statutory authority to take custody of DoD detainees. It would also need to revamp its practices to comply with laws of war instead of just federal law.

If DOJ took custody of the detainees, they would then need more resources to accommodate them--the DOJ prison system is already 38 percent overcrowded, the report says.

The requisite extra resources would exceed what DOJ would need to take on 166 ordinary prisoners, too. The facilities would have to keep the ex-Guantanamo detainees' lives separate from the rest of the prison population. That means not just their cells but their meals and education, laundry and religious services.

The GAO, uncharacteristically, makes no recommendations in the report.

"GAO's review is descriptive and did not include an evaluation of whether specific U.S. facilities would be suitable for holding Guantanamo Bay detainees, nor did GAO address legal factors that are still being adjudicated," the report says.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, requested the report in 2008.

"This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security," Feinstein said in a statement.

The Guantanamo Bay facilities currently hold 166 detainees. Three have received convictions, seven have charges pending, and 24 have cases under review that might result in prosecution. Forty-six "have been determined to require continued detention" even though they do not face prosecution, the GAO notes. The rest are awaiting transfer to other countries.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-31 (.pdf)

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