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Guantanamo Prison Emerge As Option For IS Fighters

Trump had said in his first State of the Union last year that he would use Guantanamo "in many cases" to detain prisoners as part of the fight against Islamic State and al-Qaida.

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Gauntanamo Bay
The entrance to Camp VI detention facility is guarded at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, Nov. 20, 2013. VOA

The Guantanamo Bay detention center would receive new prisoners for the first time in more than a decade under one option being considered as the U.S. withdraws its forces from Syria and works to resolve the fate of hundreds of captured suspected Islamic State fighters, officials say.

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have custody of nearly 1,000 suspected IS fighters who the State Department said should be sent back to their home countries and prosecuted. The Syrian fighters have warned they may not be able to continue to hold the IS fighters after the withdrawal of American forces from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump in December.

If they can’t be repatriated, though, the detention center on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be used to hold them “where lawful and appropriate,” the State Department said Thursday.

“The Administration’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism makes very clear that Law of Armed Conflict detention, including at Guantanamo, remains an important and effective counterterrorism tool,” it said in a statement to The Associated Press in response to questions about the prisoners.

FILE - President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress, Jan. 30, 2018.
President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress, Jan. 30, 2018. VOA

Trump had said in his first State of the Union last year that he would use Guantanamo “in many cases” to detain prisoners as part of the fight against Islamic State and al-Qaida. As a candidate, when asked about what he would do with the controversial detention center, he said he would “load it up with some bad dudes.”

But the administration has not added any prisoners to the detention center that President Barack Obama sought to close, and officials say that sending suspected Islamic State fighters back to their homelands remains the preferred choice.

“Repatriating foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin and ensuring they are prosecuted and detained is the best solution to prevent them from returning to the battlefield,” the State Department said.

A U.S. official said Guantanamo is the “option of last resort.” The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. has identified about 50 people among the more than 900 held by Syrian forces as “high value” suspects that could be transported to Guantanamo if they are not repatriated.

Legal issues

Sending Islamic State prisoners to Guantanamo would open up new legal challenges, according to experts.

U.S.
the administration has not added any prisoners to the detention center that President Barack Obama sought to close, and officials say that sending suspected Islamic State fighters back to their homelands remains the preferred choice. Pixabay

The U.S. is allowed to detain al-Qaida and “associated forces” at Guantanamo under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. But whether Islamic State group fighters meets that criteria is an untested question, said Robert Chesney, a national security law professor at the University of Texas.

“No court has ever once had the case and the executive branch for many years has really not wanted the court to answer that question,” Chesney said.

The U.S. began holding prisoners suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban in January 2002, drawing intense international criticism for holding men indefinitely without charge amid reports of mistreatment at the isolated base on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

Prison size

Guantanamo held nearly 700 prisoners at its peak in the summer of 2003. Amid legal challenges and international pressure, more than 500 were released under President George W. Bush. Obama viewed the detention center as a waste of money that damaged America’s reputation and ordered it closed, but was blocked by Congress.

Also Read: Supreme Court Directs Louisiana from Enforcing New Regulations on Abortion Clinics

There are now 40 prisoners held, including nine who have been charged and are facing trial by military commission in proceedings that have dragged on for years.

From a purely practical standpoint, U.S. military officials have said they could accommodate additional prisoners at the base.

The forces overseeing Guantanamo prison say the prison can hold 40 more people “with no additional staffing” and the facility could accommodate 200 more inmates total, “with minimal adjustments to current infrastructure and manpower,” said Navy Cdr. Adam Bashaw, a spokesman for the military task force that runs the detention center. (VOA)

Next Story

Economy to Overcome Other Issues in 2020, says Trump

President Donald Trump is hoping that simple message in 2020 will help foil his eventual Democratic Party challenger. 

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President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Keep America Great Rally at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S. VOA

“It’s the economy, stupid” has been a catchphrase of U.S. presidential politics since the 1992 campaign, when Bill Clinton unseated incumbent George H.W. Bush. Nearly three decades later, U.S. President Donald Trump is hoping that simple message in 2020 will help foil his eventual Democratic Party challenger.

Trump — in tweets, at political rallies and in remarks to reporters — constantly emphasizes the performance of the U.S. economy, stock market surges, low unemployment rates and his tax cuts to boast he is doing a great job as president.

Economists and political analysts are divided on whether that message will enable the incumbent to stay in office beyond January 2021.

Culture war, partisan split

Ever since Clinton, “we’ve all kind of assumed that should be true. And I think for the most part, it is,” said Ryan McMaken, senior editor and economist at the Mises Institute, a politics and economics research group in Alabama. He cautioned, though, that Trump finds himself on one side of a culture war that his predecessors did not have to confront, as well as a deep partisan divide on consumer confidence.

Walmart Supercentre
Balo Balogun labels items in preparation for a holiday sale at a Walmart Supercenter, in Las Vegas. Black Friday once again kicks off the start of the holiday shopping season. But it will be the shortest season since 2013 because of Thanksgiving falling on the fourth Thursday in November, the latest possible date it can be. VOA

Policy analyst James Pethokoukis at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, a public policy research group, also is cautious about the economy prevailing over all other issues.

“Just having a strong economy is not going to guarantee you re-election,” he said. “People often point back to the 2000 election, which occurred after a decade of tremendous economic growth any way you want to measure it — gross domestic product, jobs and wage growth. And yet, [Clinton’s vice president] Al Gore still lost that election to George W. Bush.”

McMaken questioned whether voters in key swing states — such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio — who cast ballots for Trump in 2016 were experiencing enough of the touted economic performance to vote again for the president.

Overall, however, “it’s not a bad economy to run on if you’re Donald Trump,” said Pethokoukis.

Trump, said to have concerns about the direction of the economy ahead of next November’s election, will likely push for more tax cuts, passage of a renegotiated North American trade pact and continued pressure on the country’s central banking system, the Federal Reserve, to lower interest rates.

A LB Steel LLC's employee manufactures a component
A LB Steel LLC’s employee manufactures a component for new Amtrak Acela trains built in partnership with Alstom in Harvey, Illinois, U.S. VOA

Trouble ahead?

There are rumblings of economic storm clouds on the horizon. The impact can be seen in Trump’s trade war with China, which has hurt U.S. farmers and raised prices for consumer goods. It’s also reflected in the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Index, an underperforming U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index and a ballooning record national debt, in addition to the worrying level of money owed to creditors by middle-class Americans.

“We’ve actually been in a sort of a manufacturing recession, seen a shrinkage of factory jobs, the exact kinds of jobs that I’m sure that people voting for the president thought would be a lot better now,” said Pethokoukis.

So far, none of this has prompted a major stock market correction.

“There seems to be a lot of adaptations in the markets to Trump’s America. That may work to his advantage,” said the Mises Institute’s McMaken.

Analysts note a lack of emphasis on economic platforms so far by the leading Democratic U.S. presidential candidates seeking to oust Trump next year.

But such a platform is likely to be touted when the opposition party holds its convention next July in Milwaukee and picks its campaign ticket. Pethokoukis suggested the Democratic Party should devise a plan with a goal to boost American worker productivity, which has flatlined for years.

The great divide

McMaken pointed out that the widening chasm between the well-off and those struggling economically in the United States makes Trump vulnerable — something emphasized by left-leaning Democratic presidential contenders such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Donald Trump says the economy isn't doing well
Tents and tarps erected by homeless people are shown along sidewalks and streets in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. VOA

“On the ground level, I would say just in general, the economy isn’t doing as well,” concluded McMaken.

ALSO READ: Greed For Power May Demolish The Democracy

Amid an impeachment drive by the Democrats, Trump is repeatedly hammering on a specific message to those questioning his suitability for office while being impressed with the performance of their pension accounts during his presidency.

“Love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me,” Trump said at a rally in New Hampshire in August, warning that Americans’ investments portfolios would go “down the tubes” if he lost next year’s election. (VOA)