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Guantanamo Bay Could be the Place for Some Foreign Fighters

According to U.S. and Western military and intelligence officials, many of these foreign fighters remain ideologically motivated, and their training and battlefield experience makes them especially dangerous.

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In the end, U.S. defense officials caution Guantanamo Bay may be the only choice left. “The administration has said very clearly Gitmo is an option here,”
Guantanamo Bay, wikimedia commons
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U.S. defense officials appear willing to send more captured terrorists to the country’s detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but see the prison as a last resort, best suited for hard-core fighters who cannot be safely contained at other locations.

The Pentagon Wednesday sent updated guidance to the White House on the rules governing what type of individuals could be sent to Guantanamo Bay, though officials cautioned that no new transfers are in the works.

“Ultimately, the White House will decide how we move forward,” Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.

“Our policy is that we are trying to encourage countries to take back their citizens,” she added. “We will continue to push that.”

Neither the White House nor the Defense Department have been willing so far to comment on the new guidelines in any detail.

A statement from a Defense Department spokesperson broadly defined those eligible for transfer to Guantanamo Bay as any person posing “a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States.”

Then-President George W. Bush opened Guantanamo after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold and interrogate suspected enemy combatants.
Flag of the United States, wikimedia commons

The fate of the detention facility, once slated for closure, has taken on additional importance as U.S. and coalition operations against the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria begin to wind down.

Currently, U.S.-backed forces in Syria are holding more than 400 IS foreign fighters, while even more are being held in various prisons and other facilities in Iraq. Washington would like to see them returned to their home nations, but many countries are reluctant to accept these fighters.

According to U.S. and Western military and intelligence officials, many of these foreign fighters remain ideologically motivated, and their training and battlefield experience makes them especially dangerous.

“In some cases, those countries have stripped them of their citizenship, so they have a different view as far as to what their status is today,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier this week. “So, this is not simple.”

In the end, U.S. defense officials caution Guantanamo Bay may be the only choice left.

“The administration has said very clearly Gitmo is an option here,” Christopher Maier, director of the Defense Department’s Defeat ISIS Core Task Force told VOA. “If they’re not held in some sort of custody, then you’re just asking for more turmoil.”

Even then, not all foreign fighters would be candidates.

Then-President George W. Bush opened Guantanamo after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold and interrogate suspected enemy combatants.
The White House to take final call on the issue, wikmedia commons

“I think the intent would be to use Gitmo for certain types of ISIS fighters that were maybe of a more extreme set that couldn’t be dealt with in local facilities or local systems,” Maier said.

The last time Guantanamo Bay received a new detainee was more than 10 years ago, in March 2008. In 2009, then-U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing that the detention facility be shut down.

Since then, the number of detainees has fallen from 242 to 40, with the military announcing the most recent transfer, of Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia, late Wednesday.

Darbi’s transfer, the first under President Donald Trump, came as part of a 2014 plea deal that will allow al-Darbi to serve out the rest of his 13-year sentence under Saudi guard.

But unlike his predecessor, Trump pledged to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open, making a key promise of his presidential campaign to “to load it up with some bad dudes.”

He signed an executive order to that effect this past January.

Also Read: UN Requests Trump Not to Quit Iran Deal

Then-President George W. Bush opened Guantanamo after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold and interrogate suspected enemy combatants.

At the height of its operations, the prison held 780 people, mostly inmates with alleged ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Since then, hundreds have been transferred to their home countries or to other nations that agreed to accept them. (VOA)

 

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DNA Testing To Bring Together Separated Families

Thermo Fisher Scientific has offered to donate $1 million worth of its rapid test technology to help reunite families

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An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018.
An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. VOA

When kidnappers assaulted a woman on a Guatemala City street and ripped her infant daughter from her arms, DNA testing came to the rescue. A positive match helped reunite mother and child after the baby turned up abandoned at a church with no identification.

In addition to identifying kidnap victims, DNA tests have helped connect adoptees with their biological parents and U.S. immigrants with their families.

Now, DNA technology is being called upon to bring together families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Migrants’ advocates, however, say using genetic testing in this way raises technical, legal and ethical issues.

While several companies have offered to donate kits, leading migrant rights groups have turned them down.

Missing children

Genetic tests have helped an organization called DNA-Prokids reconnect more than 1,000 missing children with their families in Mexico, Nepal, Thailand and several other countries, including the kidnapping case in Guatemala City.

Jose Lorente, a professor of forensic medicine at the University of Granada in Spain, started the organization. Lorente said he was moved by the children he saw on the streets in cities around the world. Many were victims of trafficking and had parents who were looking for them.

Lorente said he hopes to establish a worldwide network of DNA testing labs to help children everywhere.

“This is a way to send a message to people trafficking children,” he said. “The message is, from now on, it is not going to be so easy to steal and traffic a child because he or she will be immediately identified.”

Border tests

Lorente said DNA tests could help make sure children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border are not being trafficked.

“It’s going to be a small percentage,” Lorente said, but added there may be cases in which ill-intentioned adults claim children who are not their own.

U.S. officials already use DNA tests to confirm that immigrants seeking to join relatives in the United States are related.

A view inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility shows children at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, June 17, 2018.
A view inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility shows children at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, June 17, 2018. VOA

Genetic testing led the U.S. State Department to suspend a refugee program in 2008. Suspecting fraud in the family reunification program, officials tested about 3,000 applicants, mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia and Liberia. They confirmed a parental connection in less than 20 percent of the cases.

The program restarted in 2012, requiring a DNA test to prove that a parent and child are related.

New technology could enable those tests to be conducted at the border in as little as 90 minutes. Law enforcement agencies are evaluating rapid DNA tests that can match a person in police custody to a database of known criminals. The same technology could be used to test migrants.

Thermo Fisher Scientific has offered to donate $1 million worth of its rapid test technology to help reunite families separated at the border.

That followed offers from two ancestry companies, 23andMe and MyHeritage, to donate their technologies to the effort.

Privacy concerns

“Who’s going to keep that information?” asked communications manager Fernanda Durand with the migrant rights group CASA. She is worried the government could use migrants’ genetic fingerprints later without their consent.

“It’s very troubling,” she said.

Standard DNA tests can only reliably identify parent-child and sibling relationships. In refugee situations, advocates say, it’s not unusual for someone other than a child’s biological parent to care for him or her — for example, if a parent has been killed or detained.

The ancestry companies’ tests look at much more genetic information than standard DNA tests and can identify broader relationships; but, they can also generate much more sensitive data, including health information, and that would need to be protected. These tests also are not certified for this purpose by the organization that accredits DNA testing labs.

Plus, “Most of these migrants probably don’t have a high school education and have never encountered DNA in their lives,” noted genetic counselor Kayla Sheets, founder of Vibrant Gene Consulting. “How can they give informed consent [to be tested] if they don’t understand the technology?”

“This is a very, very vulnerable population,” Sheets added, and extra safeguards need to be in place when dealing with their genetic information. “And I’m just not certain that these companies, nor quite frankly the government, [are] quite set up for that yet.”

23andMe and MyHeritage say they are sensitive to the privacy concerns and will offer the tests only to legal aid groups working with migrant families.

Those groups have said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” according to communications director Jennifer Falcon at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

Separating parents from their children is bad enough, she said.

Also read: Trump Calls For Deporting Illegal Immigrants With No Court Hearings

“We don’t believe you can solve one civil rights violation by creating another potential violation with their privacy,” Falcon added. (VOA)