Some Republicans, after hearing about the talks, appeared to balk at such access to the Guantanamo Bay naval station. In an early version of the annual legislation to authorize the activities of the Defense Department, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, inserted language that would ban family visits, which have never occurred at the prison.
But the latest version of the bill states only that Defense Department funding appropriated for fiscal 2012 may not be used “to permit any person who is a family member of an individual detained at Guantanamo to visit the individual.”
That would not rule out a visitation program underwritten by the Red Cross.
“My efforts are aimed at protecting U.S. personnel at Guantanamo and sensitive national security information from being compromised,” McKeon said Wednesday. “Allowing family members to visit detainees at Guantanamo Bay would create major security concerns for our nation.”
A spokesman for the ICRC, Simon Schorno, said the organization would not comment on its confidential dialogue with the U.S. government. But he said that “regardless of where detainees are held, particularly in the context of long-term detention, the ICRC will always work for the detainees and their families to be in contact with one another, including through family visits.”
The Pentagon also would not discuss any potential visitation program or its talks with the ICRC. In response to questions, the department said in a statement that “we are constantly reviewing detention policies with regard to our detention operations globally.”
Congressional aides familiar with the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
Because Guantanamo is off-shore, families would not necessarily need to enter the mainland United States to reach the prison, and the visits could be staged from a neighboring country willing to allow the families to move into and out of the base.
The “high-value detainees” held at the top-security Camp 7 — including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — would almost certainly not be allowed to participate in any family-visit program. They are currently forbidden to communicate by phone or teleconference, although they can send letters to relatives.
The prospect of family visits is another tacit acknowledgment that Guantanamo is unlikely to close anytime in the near future, and it follows the creation of a review process for those detainees whom the Obama administration said it plans to hold indefinitely without trial.