The conclusion of Guantanamo would match with the president's stated deadline for a total U.S. departure from Afghanistan.
Both former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump promised to close the prison facility placed on a U.S. naval base in Cuba. Biden made closing the arrest center a campaign promise and in February ordered a review to "assess the current state of play."
According to NBC News, that process has quickly accelerated, yet the administration has avoided making public statements on the subject to avoid falling into the same trap that caught Biden's predecessors.
"They don't want it to become a dominant issue that blows up," a Biden administration official involved in the discussions told NBC News. "They don't want it to become a lightning rod. They want it to be methodical, orderly."
After opening in 2002, Guantanamo has housed, at its max, nearly 800 prisoners. President George W. Bush transferred more than 500 of them, and Obama transferred an additional 144, including five high-ranking Taliban members who were part of a 2014 prisoner swap that secured the release of former Army soldier and deserter Bowe Bergdahl.
Trump also transferred one prisoner during his time in office but signed an executive order keeping Guantanamo open, and the final roadblock to ending the prison completely remains to determine what to do with the 40 detainees still housed within its walls.
The most well-known figure of that group is unquestionably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a former al Qaeda member who is believed to be the architect of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He and the rest of the "9/11 five," who are also being held at Guantanamo, are facing the death penalty over war crime charges. They were set to stand trial in January 2021, but Congress has repeatedly blocked efforts to transfer Guantanamo prisoners to the continental United States.
“Many of us put our lives on the line to prevent these terrorists from ever returning to the battlefield. Some of us even sustained permanent wounds,” nine Republican House members who fought in the war on terror wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on the matter. “There is no acceptable reason to bring terrorists to the homeland and risk release due to a legal technicality.”
“For years it has been a matter of debate whether Guantanamo prisoners should have the same evidentiary standards as American citizens through the United States judicial system,” the letter continues. “It would be a mistake to risk acquittal of a known terrorist because of a prosecutorial error, a technicality, or a miscellaneous legal loophole.”