Gorka: You bet we're keeping Gitmo open

Two different presidents — two different promises on the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama pledged to close it within the first year of his presidency, but couldn’t get his own party to back it. Instead, Obama transferred as many prisoners out of the facility as he could, despite the significant risks of recidivism demonstrated during George Bush’s presidency.

Now, Donald Trump has taken office, and some wonder whether he’ll make good on his pledge to start filling it back up with “bad dudes.” White House adviser Seb Gorka says it’s too important as an intel asset to close:

ABC also covered this statement of purpose on Gitmo:

“The president has been really explicit … that Gitmo is a very, very important tool,” Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, said on Fox News this morning. “It’s also important to understand that Guantanamo Bay is an incredibly important intelligence asset.”

Since taking office last month, the president has yet to address directly the future of Gitmo. The day before Trump’s inauguration, President Obama transferred four more people from the facility to United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, leaving 41 detainees. …

Gorka, a former national security editor at Breitbart News, pointed to reports that a recent ISIS suicide bomber in Mosul was identified as a British former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was released in 2003.

“You look at the things that we have managed to achieve based upon the intelligence gleaned from the prisoners there,” Gorka said. “So we stand by the president’s determination during the campaign that this is something we have to keep.”

Will we actually have much reason to keep it open as an intelligence asset? To do that, the US will have to re-engage in ground operations where radical Islamist terror networks operate. One reason why we haven’t added to Gitmo’s roster — apart from Obama’s need to show it wasn’t necessary — was a change in strategy and tactics that had US military and intelligence operations focus on drone warfare. Rather than capturing terror suspects, we mainly (although not entirely) opted just to kill them outright. If we are to use Gitmo as an intel asset, we’d need to return to the more aggressive forward strategies of the Bush administration, whose war policies Trump sharply criticized all during his campaign.

For the remaining prisoners, though, the facility works better than moving them to the US. ABC’s link includes an in-depth video report from the final weeks of the Obama administration that notes the annual cost per inmate as $7 million a year, mainly because of the economy of scale. One potential problem with transferring the remaining 41 prisoners to the US is that they will likely have to be handled through the civil courts rather than military tribunals. Since most of the remaining detainees — including the 9/11 plotters — got captured and identified by intelligence and military operations rather than through a law-enforcement process, it would be all but impossible to try them in US courts, plus the security risks in doing so were so politically poisonous that even Obama and Eric Holder were forced to back down from that plan.

If we do start capturing more “bad dudes,” or even to hold the ones we’ll never release, we’d need to invent another Gitmo anyway. It makes a lot more sense to just keep the one we have in operation.