President Barack Obama has been making progress on his pledge to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, having transferred out more than 20 prisoners since last fall, leaving fewer than 60 the administration considers eligible for release if countries can be found to accept them.
That would leave some 70 hard-core terrorists at the base. The president is reported to believe that Congress will then reject the high cost of keeping the facility open for these 70 prisoners, including the man who organized the aircraft attacks of 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and agree to transfer them to a security prison in the United States.
The likeliest place would be the Navy brig in Hanahan, which has already held some high-risk terrorist prisoners. It could become the new Guantanamo. Why it would be cheaper to house them here than on the Cuban base is not clear, unless Mr. Obama also has a plan to return Guantanamo to Cuban jurisdiction, as suggested by some commentators.
That raises a wholly different set of questions, since Guantanamo has been the Navy’s main operating center for the Caribbean Sea and East Coast of South America for more than a century. If Cuba had a friendly government, the base would undoubtedly be welcome. But Cuba does not have a friendly government, despite Mr. Obama’s recent decision to resume diplomatic relations. Giving up Guantanamo should not be a U.S. objective.
Meanwhile, developments in the threat posed by Islamic terrorism raise the question of whether there may be a new reason to keep open the prison facility at Guantanamo. The success of the Islamic State in attracting Western adherents has led to a rapid increase in the number of trained terrorists with U.S. passports — now said to be in the range of 150 — and European passports with automatic entry to the United States.
The leader of the Islamic State has urged these fighters to return to their home countries and wage war on them.
In addition, other Islamic terrorist networks are still sending jihadists to attack Western targets. Al-Qaida in Yemen has claimed a connection to the French residents who attacked the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. (The New York Times reports that the majority of Guantanamo prisoners the Obama administration is seeking to release come from Yemen, a nation in the throes of at least two Islamist rebellions.)
The current strategy of drone attacks on jihad leaders gathers very little intelligence about their plans for attacks on the United States. Perhaps the time has come, as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has suggested, to resume the pre-Obama policy of tracking down those leaders, capturing them and letting them be questioned by skilled interrogators within accepted rules for treatment of prisoners.
Guantanamo, not the Navy brig in Hanahan, remains the logical place to detain such terror suspects.