Donald Trump signs order to keep Guantanamo Bay prison open

Donald Trump signs order to keep Guantanamo Bay prison open
President Donald Trump pauses as he finishes his first State of the Union address. Pic: Win McNamee/Pool via AP

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to keep open the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, marking a formal reversal of his predecessor's eight-year effort to shut it down.

Mr 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 Mr Trump signed just before delivering his first State of the Union address, says the US maintains the option to detain additional enemy combatants at the detention centre in Cuba when lawful and necessary to protect US national security.

It requires the defence secretary to recommend criteria for determining the fate of individuals captured by the US in armed conflict, including sending them to Guantanamo.

"Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil," Mr 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% of the 728 detainees released from Guantanamo are "confirmed" and 12% 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 set up under Barack Obama.

Mr 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 the new order, said Lee Wolosky, who was Mr 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 him were trying to close Guantanamo because they recognised that it was a detriment to our national security," he said.

"Symbolically, it reaffirms his interest in perpetrating a symbol that has greatly damaged the United States."

European allies, Muslim leaders and other critics have been vehemently opposed to how detainees have been held at Guantanamo for decades without charge.

- PA

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