Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Ben Rhodes and Alejandro Castro on Guantanamo

"The World As It Is"

 by Ben Rhoads, page 349-350 

At the end of one of our meetings, Alejandro [Castro] asked to see me alone. They had one dramatic proposal that they wanted me to ex­plore. "We are very interested in Guantanamo," he told me. "We know of President Obama's interest in closing the prison. And  so we would propose to take custody of Guantanamo."

I started to say, as I had many times, that Obama's priority was closing the prison, that we couldn't even talk about the naval base. He cut in. "We take note of your difficulty in removing prisoners." We were still haggling with other countries to take one or two de­tainees who were cleared for transfer. "Cuba is prepared to make the  security requirements to hold them."

It dawned on me  what  he was  proposing - that  Cuba  would take all of the prisoners if we gave them back the naval base, a piece of Cuban territory that had been occupied by the United States for   more than a century. Each year, the United States gives Cuba a check for a few thousand dollars to pay for the facility; the Cubans never cash it. "I just want to be clear here," I said. "You are offering  to take all of the prisoners?" There were, at that time, nearly a hun­dred.

"Cuba is very good at holding people securely," he said. 

"There are some that we'd need to remove," I said, thinking of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind. We'd been pre­vented from transferring him and others to prisons in the United States because of laws passed by Congress. Teams of lawyers had looked at other possibilities, including holding them in U.S. territo­ries such as Guam or Puerto Rico.

"Whatever you need to do," he said.

For the rest of my time in government, there wasn't a meeting when he didn't revisit this idea. Even as I knew it was unlikely to happen, I came to like the  idea, and I told Obama so. We could

have some negotiated transition  period, where the United States and Cuba jointly administered the facility. In meeting after meeting on Gitmo, I'd hold up my hand and say, "I'm the only one with a Plan B." Obama dismissed it as a bridge too far, even for the fourth quarter. But I couldn't help but see the unintentional genius in the idea - righting two historical wrongs, ending two chapters at once.

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