The top military lawmaker in the House of Representatives is calling for assurances from President Barack Obama that Guantanamo Bay won’t be handed over to Cuba as part of a normalization package between the U.S. and the Raul Castro-led country. Rep. Mac Thornberry R-Texas, chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama could make the announcement during a visit to the country later this month.
Thornberry sent letters dated Feb. 29 to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, expressing concern “the administration may be pursuing secret negotiations over the future of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as it has acknowledged it did in the pursuit of normalized relations with Havana,” the Hill reported Wednesday. “It provides an ideal location from which to service, stage, and project U.S. military forces, secure the air and maritime approaches to the United States, undertake counternarcotics efforts and provide disaster relief.”
It was unclear from Thornberry’s letter if his concerns about Cuba taking over the prison included the 91 prisoners remaining at the base. The future of those still at the controversial prison, some of whom have been there since the detention facility opened in 2002, has been a point of contention between the Republicans and Democrats since Obama announced he would close it on his third day in office in January 2009.
Since then, some prisoners have been repatriated to their own countries while others have been sent to third party nations for security reasons. The administration announced last month it was looking into sending remaining prisoners to a yet-to-be-decided location on the U.S. mainland.
In response to Thornberry’s letter, Carter said Monday the Pentagon intended to hold onto the base. “It’s a strategic location. We’ve had it for a long time. It’s important to us, and we intend to hold on to it,” he said.
In an accidental case of bipartisanship, GOP front-runner Donald Trump also suggested during a rally in Nevada last month that Cuba should take over the base to reduce the $40 million monthly bill.
“Maybe in our deal with Cuba, we get them to take it over and reimburse us, because we’re probably paying rent,” Trump said during the rally. “We’re going to keep it open, but we’re going to get the cost down, because that’s ridiculous.”