The Trump Administration is reportedly considering a plan that would send hundreds of captured Islamic State fighters to Iraqi prisons and others to the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
The 600 fighters are currently being detained in a rebel-controlled area of Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a majority Kurdish militia, who no longer have the means to hold them or prosecute them, NBC News reported Thursday.
Many of those being detained are foreign born.
EXCLUSIVE from @ckubeNBC @dandeluce @JoshNBCNews About 600 fighters now held prisoner in Syria may go to an Iraqi prison, but “high-value” detainees like two men involved in beheading hostages may go to Gitmo. https://t.co/hIdeQzAj7f
— NBC Investigations (@NBCInvestigates) August 30, 2018
The highest-value fighters would be transferred to Guantanamo, including two ISIS fighters – Alexandar Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – who were part of a group of four jihadis called “The Beatles” because they had British accents.
They took part in murdering American and Western hostages.
The fighters who would be sent to Iraq would be detained in Iraqi prisons and observed by Iraqi guards, while others could be transferred to Cuba.
A spokesman for the National Security Council said, “Our partners in Syria are detaining terrorists who were captured or surrendered, including many foreign terrorist fighters. All options will be considered. The president and his national security team will pursue the option that best protects the national security interests of the United States.”
The U.S. has made efforts to send the prisoners to their country of origin, or to other countries, but has had little success in doing so.
The U.S. has notified nearly four dozen countries that their citizens are being held by the SDF, who could no longer accommodate the prisoners, and the countries needed to plan prisoner transfers back to their own countries.
With some convincing, some of the countries did accept their prisoners, including Macedonia and Lebanon.
Both Tunisia and Kazakhstan agreed to take some of the prisoners. Tunisia agreed to take as many as 150 of them but only with compensation, two senior U.S. defense officials confirmed to NBC.
Other countries refuse to budge on taking the prisoners, despite the numerous U.S requests, the Washington Examiner reported.
One U.S. official said that nearly 2,000 women and children are held in refugee camps, but their countries don’t want them, as they may have radical ideologies or mental health issues.
Trump administration mulling sending new prisoners to Gitmo. No one has been sent there since 2008, after SCOTUS ruled detainees have right to challenge detention https://t.co/uOqzAQGutc
— Liz Goodwin (@lizcgoodwin) August 30, 2018
Congressional Democrats and human rights groups argue that instead of being sent to Guantanamo where they will be imprisoned indefinitely without charges, the prisoners should be tried and convicted in a federal court.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has reservations on the idea, fearing that sending the prisoners to Guantanamo would martyr them.
She is advocating for the ISIS murderers responsible for journalist James Foley’s death to be tried in federal court as his family has requested.
“We encourage all of our partners to take responsibility for their citizens, including prosecuting them for any crimes they’ve committed, and ensuring they cannot return to the battlefield. We will continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues. We have no further specifics to provide at this time,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Cdr. Sarah Higgins, a Defense Department spokesperson who focuses on detainee policy, said: “There is no one identified to transfer to Guantanamo at this time.”
The U.S. is considering transferring the prisoners to be detained in Iraqi prisons.
An official said it would “alleviate some of the security concern” that the prisoners could escape. It would also eliminate requiring countries from having to enter Syria to gather them.
There is no agreement yet with Iraq and many legal questions remain to be answered, including who has the right to try prisoners picked up in Syria.
Human rights advocates do not support sending the prisoners to Iraq since they are known for the mistreatment of prisoners and lack of due process.
Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch said: “We would be very worried. Torture is rampant in Iraqi detention facilities.”
Spokespeople for the National Security Council and the State Department would not comment about specific options for foreign prisoners or the status of individual cases.