Senators Urge Biden To Shut Down U.S. Military Prison At Guantánamo Bay, Cuba Two dozen U.S. senators sent a letter to the White House outlining steps to shutter the crumbling military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where many men have been held uncharged for nearly 20 years.

Senators Urge Biden To Shut Down Guantánamo, Calling It A 'Symbol Of Lawlessness'

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden has vowed to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by this year's 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Well today, two dozen U.S. senators are urging him to end another legacy of 9/11. They want him to shut down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and they have outlined how he could do that. Sacha Pfeiffer of NPR's investigations team is here with details. And Sacha, I gather you've got your hands on a copy of a letter that these senators sent to the president.

SACHA PFEIFFER, BYLINE: I do. And none of the 24 letter-signers are Republicans. In the letter, they call Guantanamo's prison, quote, "a symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses." They point out - as we have reported on our air - that 40 men are still being held there, more than half have been there for up to nearly two decades without ever being tried or charged. Six have been cleared for release but are still being held. And some, as you know, were tortured in secret CIA prisons.

KELLY: Yeah. Worth remembering that when former President Obama came to office, he vowed to shut down Guantanamo. He never managed to do it. How do these senators say President Biden could accomplish what Obama could not?

PFEIFFER: You're right. Obama faced massive Republican opposition to closing Gitmo. Republicans said it would endanger our country. But these senators today who signed this letter note that the prisoners are aging, some are sick and Guantanamo is hugely expensive. Tally so far to U.S. taxpayers - more than $6 billion since 2002.

So they detail how Biden could shut down Gitmo. For starters, they say, re-establish a State Department office that was dismantled by the Trump administration. That office used to negotiate with foreign governments to transfer Guantanamo prisoners to other countries. And they say once that office is up and running again, it could start arranging overseas transfers for these men.

KELLY: Sacha, could Biden go around Congress? Does he have to have Congress on board to get this done?

PFEIFFER: I asked today a defense attorney - a Guantanamo defense attorney about this. Her name is Alka Pradhan. She doesn't think so. She represents one of the 9/11 defendants.

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ALKA PRADHAN: The White House does not need Congress to do that. To negotiate transfers to other countries, you know, the State Department can do that all on their own as long as they have some dedicated personnel to do that.

KELLY: Sacha, transfers to other countries - then what happens in the other countries? Where would they go?

PFEIFFER: It would be a case-by-case basis to decide where they go. Some would go back to their home countries. Others would go to other countries that agreed to take them for repatriation, say.

KELLY: And then what? Would they be set free?

PFEIFFER: Sometimes, yes, if, for example, they were already approved for release or they were never charged. But the senators also say that the Justice Department could pursue plea agreements by remote video conference with prisoners who could be federally prosecuted. And then if they're sentenced to prison time beyond what they've already served at Guantanamo, they could serve the remainder in a foreign country.

KELLY: So how likely is Biden to be successful at closing Gitmo?

PFEIFFER: Unclear - hard to gauge how much Republicans will fight back. But here's what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in February.

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JEN PSAKI: That certainly is our goal and our intention. So we are undertaking an NSC process - which is how it should work - to work with the interagency, I should say, to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has - what we've inherited from the previous administration.

PFEIFFER: And when she says NSC, she's talking about the National Security Council working with other government officials to try to close Gitmo.

KELLY: That is Sacha Pfeiffer of NPR's investigations team. Thank you.

PFEIFFER: Thank you.

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