A guard watches over detainees in the exercise yard at the Camp Five detention facility on Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. Photo: Brennan Linsley / AP
President Trump said on Thursday that he would "love to" send Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbekistan native and U.S. green card holder accused of killing eight people in New York City, to Guantánamo Bay, "but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system." Trump added that he'd prefer the death penalty, and wanted the process to move fast.
Why it matters: Guantánamo (otherwise known as Gitmo) was created as a detention center for enemy combatants after 9/11, and Sarah Sanders said in a Wednesday press briefing that Trump does consider Saipov an enemy combatant. The label would allow for him to be interrogated without a lawyer present, per NBC. However, the Justice Department has charged him in federal civilian court.
Fast facts on Guantánamo:
- Located in southeastern Cuba, the detention facility was opened following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The claim was that prisoners "were not on U.S. soil and therefore not covered by the U.S. Constitution," per CNN, meaning they could be denied legal protections.
- In 2015, the Department of Defense spent around $445 million to run the facility.
- CNN reports there were 684 detainees "at Gitmo's peak" in June 2003; when President Obama took office there were 242.
- The oldest detainee was 89, arrived at Gitmo in 2002; the youngest was 14, capturing in Pakistan in 2002, per CNN.
- Human right's groups have long argued that the detention facility is a symbol of torture and violates human rights. In 2008, the Supreme Court rules in a 5-4 decision that detainees have constitutional rights to challenge their imprisonment.
- The New York Times reported that as of February there were 41 detainees left, and 730 detainees had been transferred elsewhere since 2002. Countries like Qatar, Yemen, Pakistan, Britain, and more have accepted transfers.
The fight to close the doors:
- Obama said in 2009 that he planned to close the prison within a year.
- While he reduced the 242-prisoner count to under 100, CNN reported he had a trouble finding countries to accept transferred prisoners.
- One of the plans to empty out the facility was to transfer detainees to facilities in the U.S., which met opposition from lawmakers "whose states and districts would host them," the Washington Post reported.
- In 2016, Obama said Gitmo is "expensive, it's unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies."
- Per Time, a measure was passed in 2015 that prohibited "the use of funds to close or abandon the prison, transfer detainees to the United States...or build or modify facilities to house detainees in the United States."
- Hillary Clinton expressed her desire to close Guantánamo as Secretary of State and as the Democratic nominee for President.
What Trump has said about it:
- At a campaign rally in Nevada last year, Trump said: "I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way...we are keeping open....and we're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."
- He told the Miami Herald last August he would try U.S. citizens accused of terrorism at Gitmo: "I know that they want to try them in our regular court systems, and I don't like that at all...I would say they could be tried there, that would be fine."
- In January, Trump tweeted: "there should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield."