The closing of the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, came one step closer today with news that officials are inspecting and surveying the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, as an alternative.
Official inspections and surveys are required to determine potential sites for detaining military prisoners and estimate the costs of doing so.
Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters today that a “broad list” of military and civilian sites could be looked at to determine if they can hold "law-of-war detainees" securely and humanely.
“Only those locations that can hold detainees at a maximum security level will be considered,” said Ross, adding the list is “informed by past assessment efforts.”
The surveys are part of President Obama’s push to close Guantanamo before he leaves office next year. Cries of “not in my backyard” from state officials and lawmakers have put an end to earlier attempts to close the prison.
Guantanamo currently holds 116 detainees, with 52 having been cleared for transfer to third-party countries. The Obama administration wants the remaining prisoners to be held in the U.S.
Answering fears that holding prisoners in the U.S was dangerous, Ross said convicted terrorists had been held in the U.S. "for years" without incident, and that transferring prisoners now in Guantanamo “will not risk the wellbeing of nearby residents.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said this week that even though he supports Obama's efforts to close Guantanamo, some prisoners held there were too dangerous to be moved.
He said “It ends up being part of jihadi recruiting and so forth and I would just as soon not leave that to a future president. But it’s tricky to do that. The reason it’s tricky to do that is this: some of the people who are there at Guantanamo Bay have to be detained indefinitely, they just gotta be locked up. So if they’re not locked up in Guantanamo Bay they need to be locked up somewhere, so we are looking at places in the United States, prisons and other places, where they can be moved.”
"Right now we’re working with Congress because they have to agree to this … to see if we can do that or not,” he continued. “It would be a nice thing to do and an important thing to do, but we gotta be realistic about the people who are in Guantanamo Bay — they are there for a reason.”
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman said he could not rule out Obama taking e executive action to close the facility and moving the prisoners to the U.S.
“I think it is fair to say that we have taken a number of steps to try to reduce the prison population there so we can get closer to closing the prison,” he said. “The president and his team are always considering a wide array of options.”