Forced Repatriation is Part of Closing Guantanamo

By Matthew Waxman
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 7:13 PM

As the Obama administration re-energizes efforts to winnow the Guantanamo population through transfers to other countries, it will be squeezed from many sides -- including from those who see the transfer arrangements as insufficiently protective of American security as well as those who see them as insufficiently protective of former captives’ rights.

The New York Times editorialized today about what it calls a "bad decision" to repatriate two Algerian citizens back to Algeria.  The editorial claims that both detainees had fears of going back, either for their safety or from persecution, and that in one case "the Obama administration continued to block his release to anywhere but Algeria, even after Luxembourg expressed interest in resettling him."  The editorial concludes that President Obama is right to close Guantanamo but wrong to do so through such forced repatriation.

I have no personal knowledge of these particular cases.  I do know from my own experience in government working on Guantanamo transfers, however, that there is often a very huge distance between a country’s expression of interest to resettle detainees and an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides (the New York Times's own reporting yesterday casts significant doubt on the Luxembourg claim).  Even if a possible destination government’s expression of interest is serious -- and it is often not -- transfer agreements involve negotiating assurances sufficient to protect our security interests and to ensure humane treatment of transferred detainees, and these difficult negotiations can easily get derailed by possible recipients' own domestic politics and by diplomatic interventions by other parties.

Forced repatriation is not ideal, and there are cases when it is unacceptable, but with appropriately negotiated safeguards sometimes it is a reasonable and virtually inevitable part of any plausible plan to reduce significantly the Guantanamo population, let alone close the facility.  [UPDATE: For more on this issue and these specific cases, I recommend this recent article by Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal.]