WASHINGTON -- Weeks before she stepped down as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton wrote a memo urging President Barack Obama to step up his administration's efforts to close the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in his second term. In the confidential January 2013 memo obtained by The Huffington Post, Clinton told Obama she worried that support for closing Guantanamo would further erode unless the administration took action.
"We must signal to our old and emerging allies alike that we remain serious about turning the page of GTMO and the practices of the prior decade," Clinton wrote in the document, using the military abbreviation for the U.S. naval base. "The revitalization of transfers, efforts to prosecute some detainees in federal courts, a longer-term approach to the return of Yemeni detainees, and credible periodic reviews would send the signal and renew a credible detention policy."
She also encouraged Obama to consider moving Guantanamo detainees into the country. "If the law permits, I recommend that you consider transfers to the United States for pre-trial detention, trial, and sentences," Clinton wrote.
The memo laid out three steps Obama should take in the wake of renewed restrictions that Congress placed on the president's ability to transfer detainees from the Guantanamo Bay facility. One of Clinton's key suggestions was for Obama to appoint a senior White House official to "lead all GTMO efforts," stating that an "impasse" on detainee transfers would continue without centralized leadership. Clinton said restrictions had "effectively prevented any transfers" and said the Pentagon and other agencies had been "wary" of certifying that a number of security conditions were in place and allowing transfers to move forward. "We need a White House lead," Clinton wrote.
The confidential January 2013 memo, "Revitalizing the Guantanamo Closure Policy," was disclosed by the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by The Huffington Post over two and a half years ago, after the memo was mentioned in a May 2013 Newsweek story. At the time that Clinton wrote the memo, the Guantanamo military commissions were essentially at a standstill. Nearly three years later, it's still unclear when the trials of the individuals accused of involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks will actually take place, and it's increasingly unlikely that the facility will close before the end of the Obama administration. There were 166 detainees at Guantanamo at the time Clinton wrote the memo. Today, 107 remain.
Clinton sent the memo about a week after she returned to the State Department following treatment for a blood clot connected to a concussion she suffered following a fall the month earlier, in December 2012. Clinton would leave her post weeks later, upon the Senate confirmation of John Kerry.
In the memo, Clinton wrote that the administration needed to convince supporters of Guantanamo that federal courts were a better option because they were "time-tested and credible to our allies" and that holding detainees at the facility was not cost-effective.
Clinton said the administration needed to engage members of Congress who wanted to keep Guantanamo open and try to convince them not to reenact restrictions "on the grounds that tying the Executive's hands on detention policy has negative national security implications beyond GTMO."
Weeks after the memo was written, and after Obama failed to mention Guantanamo in his inauguration address, a mass hunger strike by detainees would draw attention to the situation. Following a raid to regain control of the facility, military officials found a detainee “almost dying because of hunger and thirst." The Pentagon's Muslim advisor on the base predicted more than one detainee would die.
Clinton's memo also identified the large number of detainees from Yemen as an issue, as they made up more than half of Guantanamo's population of inmates. She wrote that the State Department "supports helping Yemen develop a rehabilitation program and other measures to address both future transfers from GTMO and Yemen's own domestic extremists."
Congressional restrictions that make it difficult for Obama to close Guantanamo have continued in the years since Clinton's memo, despite the White House's oppositions and threats to veto bills that imposed the restrictions. Most recently, the Senate placed restrictions in the National Defense Authorization Act that would essentially make it impossible for Obama to close down Guantanamo before he leaves office without taking controversial executive action.
Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday, but issued a signing statement that could be seen as an indication he was considering executive action to close the facility. In a statement, a spokesman indicated that Clinton would want to work with Congress to close the facility should she become president.
"Hillary Clinton supports the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and as the memo makes clear, she has consistently sought to work with Congress towards that goal," Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
A recent poll found that Clinton is the 2016 candidate that voters trust most to handle terrorism. In contrast to Clinton, Republican candidates have supported keeping the detention facilities in Guantanamo open, and even expanding their use. Donald Trump has said he'd send American supporters of the Islamic State group to Guantanamo, and Jeb Bush has said he would keep the facility open, while Marco Rubio has said he'd make the facility even larger.