By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to keep open the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, marking a formal reversal of his predecessor’s eight-year effort to shut it down.
Trump made it clear during his campaign that he wanted Guantanamo to remain open and to “load it up with some bad dudes,” but he has not yet sent a new detainee to the facility.
The order, which Trump signed Tuesday night just before delivering his first State of the Union address, says the U.S. maintains the option to detain additional enemy combatants at the detention center in Cuba when lawful and necessary to protect U.S. national security. It requires the defense secretary to recommend criteria for determining the fate of individuals captured by the United States in armed conflict, including sending them to Guantanamo.
“Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil,” Trump said. “When possible, we have no choice but to annihilate them. When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants.”
“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released,” he said, referring to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence said in its most recent report on the subject that about 17 percent of the 728 detainees who have been released from Guantanamo are “confirmed” and 12 percent are “suspected” of re-engaging in militant activities.
But the vast majority of those re-engagements occurred with former prisoners who did not go through the security review that was set up under President Barack Obama. Trump’s order says this review process would continue to be used to determine whether detainees should be held.
Practically, not much is expected to change with Trump’s new order, said Lee Wolosky, who was Obama’s special envoy at the State Department for closing Guantanamo.
“But as a symbolic matter, it changes a great deal because the two presidents before…