WASHINGTON—Four of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans are encouraging President Donald Trump to send hundreds of captured ISIS fighters now in Syria to the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are currently detaining over 700 of these battle-hardened terrorists in Northeast Syria,” the four senators said in the letter sent to the president on Jan. 22 and made public Jan. 23.
Among the 700 now in SDF hands are “two of the so-called ‘Beatles,’ expatriated British citizens suspected of joining ISIS and beheading Western hostages,” the letter continued.
The senators told Trump they worry that many of the captured terrorists could escape in the near future, due to the rapidly changing situation on the Syrian battlefield.
“It is imperative that these Islamic State fighters not be released,” the senators told Trump. “If given the opportunity, many of them will take up arms against our Syrian and Iraqi partners or attempt to infiltrate the United States or Europe to carry out terror attacks against civilian targets, as they have already done in France and Belgium.”
The senators encouraged Trump to take custody of the ISIS prisoners and ship them to Guantanamo Bay, “where they will face justice.”
Trump signed an executive order in January 2018 directing then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis “to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.”
Trump’s order reversed one issued by his predecessor in the Oval Office on his second day as president. The timing of the letter from the senators coincided with the 10th anniversary of President Barack Obama’s 2009 order to close the Guantanamo facility.
Obama’s order was never fully carried out, but no new captured terrorists have been sent to the facility by Trump since he gave his order to Mattis and predicted that “many cases” would be held there.
During his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump said, “Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil. When possible, we have no choice but to annihilate them.”
But, Trump continued, “when necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.”
“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi.”
Al-Baghdadi was released in 2004 after a military review board concluded he was no longer a threat to the United States.
Five other detainees held at Guantanamo, who were Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan, were released by Obama in 2014 as part of his deal to gain the return of a captured U.S. serviceman, Bowe Bergdahl.
The “Taliban Five” turned up after their release in the Afghan group’s political office in Qatar.