Retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens said this week that the government should compensate detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay even after authorities determined that they did not pose a threat to the United States.
Stevens’s call to give reparations to dozens of detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Cuba comes as the Pentagon is racing to move these inmates ahead of possible congressional action that could restrict transfers.
In a speech Monday, Stevens pointed to the detainees who have already been approved for a transfer out of Guantanamo Bay, saying that some or all of them “are entitled to some sort of reparation.”
There are 57 inmates in Guantanamo who have been approved for transfer out of the 122 detainees still being held.
“I by no means suggest that every Guantanamo detainee, such as those who have been convicted by a military commission, is entitled to compensation,” Stevens told the group Lawyers for Civil Justice in Washington, according to a copy of his remarks. “But detainees who have been deemed not a security threat to the United States and have thereafter remained in custody for years are differently situated.”
Stevens linked his suggestion to the government’s decision to eventually give payments of $20,000 to Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II, which was accompanied by an official apology for actions “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
Some detainees who have been released from Guantanamo have also called on the U.S. government to provide compensation. Detainees brought to Uruguay have camped out near the U.S. Embassy there and asked the United States to provide money to help them transition to their new lives.
Stevens, who turned 95 last month, retired from the court in 2010. In some cases, Stevens has been critical of the court since stepping down. After the justices struck down a a limit on campaign contributions last year, he said its recent campaign-finance rulings were “really wrong.” A year earlier, he wrote that the court’s thinking was “questionable” after the justices invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But the remarks from Stevens came as a potential showdown looms between the Obama administration and Congress over the facility in Cuba.
The Obama administration has pushed recently to transfer certain Guantanamo detainees and find countries to accept the detainees who have been cleared for release. While the Pentagon hopes to move the 57 detainees out of the camp this year, lawmakers have sought to try and limit the government’s ability to transfer inmates to other countries. The House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly passed a bill last week prohibiting many detainee transfers, and the legislation is now heading to the full House of Representatives.
Stevens’s comments were made the same day that three U.S. senators called on President Obama to act quickly and “take meaningful action” before his presidency winds down.
“Many of these detainees were approved for transfer years ago and their continued indefinite detention serves as a propaganda tool for terrorists and harms our national security,” Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote in a letter to the White House. They added: “Transferring the 57 cleared detainees as quickly as possible will be a momentous step toward closing Guantanamo.”
Pointing to the heavy financial cost of maintaining the prison, which requires millions of dollars per prisoner each year, they added: “We should not squander precious manpower and resources holding detainees who have been approved for transfer.”
Other lawmakers have criticized the administration’s handling of detainee transfers, arguing that more information was needed about the inmates who were released and may have reappeared on the battlefield.
“As our service members continue to defend our nation against enemies wishing to destroy our American way of life, it’s disturbing to see that our own judicial system has allowed terrorist detainees to return to the battlefield,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement last month. “We need to know the extent of the damage caused by these ill-advised decisions so that we can work to prevent them in the future.”
Grassley, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), questioned James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, after his office released a report saying that some detainees transferred due to court orders were confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities.
The report from Clapper said that about 17 percent of the 600 detainees freed from Guantanamo by January 2015 were confirmed to have reengaged in militant activity, though it said almost all of these detainees were transferred before Obama took office and signed an executive order aimed at closing the facility in Cuba.
In his speech this week, Stevens said that congressional efforts to keep Obama from transferring inmates and close Guantanamo Bay were “even more irrational” than the country’s decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans in World War II.
“Just as the Congress ultimately recognized that the fear-inspired decision made at the outset of that war was mistaken, in time our leaders will acknowledge that some or all of those 57 detainees are entitled to some sort of reparation,” he said.
And then, as he usually does, Stevens closed his speech with: “Thank you for your attention.”