The retiree stepped into an ongoing tug of war between the White House and Congress about what to do with the last 122 captives at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
MIAMI — Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens shattered the taboo on talking about reparations for Guantánamo captives this week in a speech that said some of the nearly 800 men and boys held at the Pentagon’s prison camps in Cuba may be entitled to compensation, like Japanese Americans who were interned in World War II.
“I by no means suggest that every Guantánamo detainee, such as those who have been convicted by a military commission, is entitled to compensation,” he said Monday in prepared remarks for meeting of the nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Justice group. “But detainees who have been deemed not to be a security threat to the United States and have thereafter remained in custody for years are differently situated.”
In doing so, the 95-year-old justice who was appointed by Gerald Ford, retired in 2010 and replaced by Elena Kagan, stepped into an ongoing tug of war between the White House and Congress about what to do with the last 122 captives at Guantánamo — 57 of them approved for release, with security assurances from host countries.
Many of them are Yemeni, and many were provisionally approved for transfer by Bush administration review boards, then again by a 2009 task force set up by President Obama. Neither administration would repatriate them, citing insecurity in their home country.
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The Obama administration, however, has been trying to fashion individual resettlement deals for some of them in other countries on a case-by-case basis.
But Congress has made that increasingly difficult. Successive legislation has forbidden the transfer of detainees to the United States for any reason, and imposed other restrictions.
Now, the GOP-led House Armed Services Committee has adopted legislation that would expand the restrictions to require the secretary of defense to certify a detainee’s future dangerousness has been mitigated, and would forbid transfer to certain countries likely seen as suitable locations by the Obama administration, such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
A few former detainees have tried to sue the United States for compensation, using different legal theories. But federal lawyers have successfully thwarted having the cases heard.
In 2010, Britain paid undisclosed millions in compensation to former Guantánamo prisoners who accused the British government of complicity in their U.S. detention.
Stevens, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, called the detention center a “wasteful extravagance” that should be closed “as promptly as possible.” He adopted a calculus that currently estimates it costs $3 million a year to keep a detainee at Guantánamo — a formula the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, disputed a year ago in sworn testimony.
Stevens’ talk, which was posted on the U.S. Supreme Court website, invoked President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to intern thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II, and noted that the United States twice paid reparations — $37 million in 1948 and $1.2 billion in 1988. He also noted the Bush administration freed the overwhelming majority of detainees released from the prison camps opened in Cuba.