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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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Maryland Crab Business Jeopardized by Shortage of Foreign Workers

Olivia Rubio does the hard, tedious work of extracting crab meat on Hooper's Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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As a temporary guest worker, Rubio can live and work in the U.S. during the warmer months and then return to her home country in the winter.
workers at GW Hall & Son Seafood . VOA

Olivia Rubio does the hard, tedious work of extracting crab meat on Hooper’s Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Hooper’s Island is part of chain of three sparsely populated islands in the Chesapeake Bay. After crossing a single bridge, the main road winds through picturesque watermen’s villages and unpopulated areas. Hooper’s is a center for seafood catching and processing.

Rubio has been coming for 15 years from Mexico to work in one of the island’s crab houses on an H2-B visa — a guest worker program that has been a continual issue in the crab industry for business owners in the Maryland Eastern Shore.

“We have the opportunity to come here to work and support our family, help our children move forward, and support our parents. It’s good. We have work. So, we’re grateful,” Rubio said.

H2B visa holders pick crab meat at GW Hall & Son Seafood in Maryland. The state has 20 licensed crab businesses, employing 500 foreign workers. (A. Barros/VOA)

H2B visa holders pick crab meat at GW Hall & Son Seafood in Maryland. The state has 20 licensed crab businesses, employing 500 foreign workers. (A. Barros/VOA)

As a temporary guest worker, Rubio can live and work in the U.S. during the warmer months and then return to her home country in the winter.

Though glad to receive the visa, Rubio wonders about next year; the Trump administration, citing higher demand this year, awarded the visas by lottery, instead of first-come, first-served.

“I hope there are visas to be able to come back and do the work again,” she said.

Rubio’s employer, GW Hall & Son Seafood, needed 40 visas but only got enough for 30 guest workers.

“I don’t know what we would do or the whole area would do without them. I mean from the stores to… I don’t even know how to describe it because of the impact that they have. They keep it all moving,” Robin Hall, co-owner, GW Hall & Son Seafood, told VOA.

Visa shortage

Since the 1980s, crab houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have had to hire temporary foreign workers, mostly from Mexico, to extract meat from the crabs’ hard shells. Maryland has 20 licensed crab businesses, employing 500 foreign workers.

In fiscal year 2018, 66,000 H-2B visas were available nationwide for nonagricultural industries. In its budget bill passed in March, Congress said the cap could be raised.

Amid the crisis, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, who represents Hooper’s Island in Congress, has asked the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor for extra guest worker visas.

H2B visa holders pick crab meat at GW Hall & Son Seafood in Maryland. The state has 20 licensed crab businesses, employing 500 foreign workers.
GW Hall & Son Seafood in Maryland. VOA

Harris said the fiscal year 2018 cap of H-2B visas was filled on January 1, 2018, which left many businesses unable to obtain the temporary seasonal labor they need.

Inside AE Phillips and Son in Eastern Maryland, part of the Phillips Seafood restaurant chain, which is shut down until more work visas become available. (A. Barros/VOA)

Inside AE Phillips and Son in Eastern Maryland, part of the Phillips Seafood restaurant chain, which is shut down until more work visas become available. (A. Barros/VOA)

“The H-2B visa program is a crucial resource for many seasonal businesses … and supports thousands of related jobs held by American citizens. … These temporary workers must pay American taxes, have a clean criminal record, receive no government benefits, and return to their home countries when their visas expire,” Harris said.

But on background, a DHS official offered “no new guidance to share.”

Continuing to pick crab meat, Rubio told VOA that a lot of her friends – who come annually – haven’t got visas.

“So they can’t come here to work, and they need it,” she said.

No workers

At nearby Russell Hall Seafood, the baskets and crates are empty. The kitchen is unused. There are no workers in sight.

Harry Phillips’ company, Russell Hall Seafood, needed 50 visas but got none.

“It never was this way before. We’ve done this for 25 years and no doubt some years it’s been slow getting workers, but we’ve always got them,” he said.

Phillips still has ads in local newspapers and is trying to hire local people.

“We have to actually advertise in newspapers before we’re allowed to even apply for the H-2B program workers, and we do that with a couple of different newspapers and I actually have ads in the paper now for workers, but nobody’s applied,” Phillips said.

Phillips does not like the lottery system when it comes to H-2B visas.

“That’s a big gamble. I mean, we can’t run our business at a gamble whether we’re going to get our workers or not.

Phillips’ work phone telephone rang. On the other end, a worker asked when visas would become available.

“You see? It’s them asking about the visas,” Phillips explained.

AE Phillips and Son, part of the Phillips Seafood restaurant chain, is also shut down unless workers become available. The company got its start in 1916.

H2B visa holders pick crab meat at GW Hall & Son Seafood in Maryland. The state has 20 licensed crab businesses, employing 500 foreign workers.
representational image. pixabay

But the plant’s general manager, Morgan Tolley, said he is “really worried” about 2019.

“We had some problems going on with immigration. A lot of issues are up in the air. A lot of things that people don’t understand or they think they understand. Speaking for the H2B program, which is a non-immigrant work visa, to me personally, that has nothing to do with immigration. It’s a non-immigrant work visa. These people take tremendous pride in the fact that they can come here to United States and work and go home and they’re proud of that right that they have earned,” Tolley said.

GW Hall & Son Seafood was awarded 30 H-2B visa workers but owner said 40 workers would have been ideal. (A. Barros/VOA)

GW Hall & Son Seafood was awarded 30 H-2B visa workers but owner said 40 workers would have been ideal. (A. Barros/VOA)

No locals anymore

“It tears me up.” Hall, who was operating with 75 percent of his workforce including Rubio, did not feel particularly happy or fortunate.

“I’m tickled to death to have [my workers]… But I want us all to get them. I’d really actually almost rather see everybody get them or nobody get them, so we could all be together as a group,” he said.

And he has no hope that American workers will fill the gap. “You rode down here, did you see any American people running around because there’s nobody around here?” he asked VOA.

Also Read: Eating Fish Twice a Week Reduces the Risk of Heart Failure 

“The few people we have here are retired from somewhere else. They moved down here and have a home here on the water and this was a great vacation spot.

Standing on the platform where crabs would be unloaded when they came in, Hall continued, “There’s no local people here anymore. Population’s got so low that you can’t get anybody from it.” (VOA)