Will John Kelly Close Gitmo? Guantanamo Bay Likely Won't Be Shuttered Any Time Soon

As Donald Trump’s picks for his cabinet keep rolling out, each one comes with a new, sickening revelation. The latest, his choice of John Kelly, a retired Marine General, to head up the Department of Homeland Security has raised a whole series of questions and concerns about America’s approach to fighting terrorism. Chief among those questions are what Kelly means for the future of Guantanamo Bay. Of course, that is where the military prison that houses detainees for the United States' “war on terror” is located, and it was under Kelly’s purview in his last command post before he retired.

President Barack Obama made closing the facility a central focus of his campaign and presidency, but now, nearly eight years after he took office, Guantanamo remains open. If approved by the Senate, Kelly would be well-placed to effect change or even shut down the prison at Guantanamo, but given his previous comments regarding the prison, that seems pretty unlikely.

In an interview with Military Times from January, Kelly said that “Every one [of the Guantanamo prisoners] has real, no-kidding intelligence on them that brought them there. They were doing something negative, something bad, something violent, and they were taken from the battlefield.”

“There are no innocent men down there,” he added.

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The treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo has been a concern since the prison opened in the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001. During the George W. Bush Presidency, the White House asserted that detainees at Guantanamo were neither U.S. citizens, nor were they on American soil, and as “enemy combatants” were not eligible for constitutional rights, including habeas corpus or a right to legal representation.

The biggest upshot of all this was that prisoners could be detained indefinitely, without any legal recourse or right to a hearing. Over the 14-year operation of Guantanamo as a prison for terrorists, some 780 inmates have been held there; nine have died there, according to U.S. officials cited in a report in The Atlantic. As of December, 59 prisoners remain, 43 of which are “forever prisoners” and are never eligible for release.

Kelly’s experience both with the facility directly and more broadly with the military would make him a potent vehicle for change and reform at the prison, assuming he wanted to.

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But he appears to have no qualms about the status of the prisoners or how they are treated. “The facilities [the detainees] live in today are pretty good,” Kelly told NPR. “Again, I wouldn't want to be a detainee, but if you got to be a detainee somewhere, Gitmo is the place to be."