- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
- The Trump administration is reportedly mulling over a plan to send several captured, high-value ISIS fighters to the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
- Experts warn moving these ISIS fighters to Guantanamo could turn them into martyrs and aid the terror group’s recruiting efforts.
- Human rights groups like Amnesty International say the ISIS fighters should be tried in a federal court in the US.
The Trump administration is reportedly mulling over a plan to send several captured, high-value ISIS fighters to the highly controversial US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a move experts warn could turn them into martyrs and aid the terror group’s recruiting efforts.
As part of this plan, hundreds of lower-level fighters other countries have refused to accept would be placed in an Iraqi prison, according to NBC News, which spoke with five US officials and two European diplomats familiar with the discussions. The roughly 600 ISIS fighters are currently being held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in a rebel-controlled area of Syria.
Two of the high-value fighters the Trump administration is reportedly considering sending to Guantanamo were accused of the murder of Americans and other Western hostages: Alexandar Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh.
Kotey and Elsheikh, members of a group of four jihadis nicknamed “The Beatles” due to the British accents, oversaw the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig, among others.
Democrats in Congress oppose sending new detainees to Guantanamo
Critics of sending new detainees to Guantanamo, which includes Democrats in Congress, contend doing so sends a dangerous message about America’s commitment to human rights and aids the propaganda of terrorists.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has visited the facility where the hundreds of ISIS fighters are presently detained, strongly opposes sending Kotey and Elsheikh to Guantanamo. Shaheen is among those who believes doing so would turn them into martyrs, according to NBC’s report, and wants them to be tried in a federal court in the US.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who joined Shaheen as she visited the facility in Syria in July, believes the high-value ISIS targets should be temporarily transferred to Guantanamo before being brought to the US for trial. But current US law would make this process difficult.
The National Security Council and State Department would not comment on discussions surrounding the fate of these detained ISIS fighters when contacted by NBC News.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Pentagon told NBC, “DOD’s detainee policy provides our warfighters guidance on nominating detainees for transfer to Guantanamo detention should the individual present a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States.”
‘Gitmo is the global symbol of US torture’
The detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which was opened by former President George W. Bush in 2002, remains one of the most controversial symbols of the war on terror due to its association with torture, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and other human rights violations.
At least 780 people have been held at Guantanamo, most without charge or trial.
Former President Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo, also known as “Gitmo,” but ultimately failed in this endeavor largely because of legal hurdles and obstinance in Congress.
But human rights groups like Amnesty International continue to call for the detention facility to be closed down.
“Guantanamo should be closed, not filled with more people, that’s for sure,” Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs for Amnesty International USA, told Business Insider.
Johnson added, “Gitmo is really about politics and not smart policy, and that’s a tragedy for everybody.”
Based on statements from President Donald Trump, Johnson says “there’s a legitimate risk” the US may “return to torture.
“That’s completely unacceptable and can’t be allowed to happen,” Johnson said. “Gitmo is the global symbol of US torture, which is why it should be shutdown.”
‘Everyone has the right to a trial and due process, that separates democracies from dictatorships’
Johnson noted there are still people detained indefinitely without trial at Guantanamo, including five who’ve been cleared to leave.
In this context, Johnson agrees with Shaheen that ISIS fighters like Kotey and Elsheikh should be tried in a federal court. He contends these men should be brought to justice, but in a way that respects international and US law.
“The federal court system has its problems and needs to be cleaned up, but it’s a much better venue for trying to get a fair trial than Guantanamo,” Johnson said, adding, “Everyone has the right to a trial and due process, that separates democracies from dictatorships.”
‘Guantanamo… has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us’
Though Amnesty’s primary focus regarding Gitmo is human rights, Johnson also highlighted concerns from many members of the military and intelligence communities regarding the detention facility’s status as a “recruiting tool” for terrorism.
He pointed to the example of retired Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, who called for Gitmo’s closing on these grounds during an interview in 2009.
“The concern I’ve had about Guantanamo in these wars is it has been a symbol – and one which has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us… That’s at the heart of the concern for Guantanamo’s continued existence,” Mullen said at the time. “I’ve advocated for a long time now that it needs to be closed.”