1. Update
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

Trump’s Executive Order on GITMO: What Does it Mean?

By Susan Nahvi, February 1, 2018


During the State of the Union address on January 30, President Trump announced that he had signed an Executive Order directing Secretary Mattis to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention center open and “reexamine our military detention policy.” What does this order change, and what could its potential effect be?

On Tuesday, the President signed the “Presidential Executive Order on Protecting American Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists.” This order repeals part of a 2009 executive order issued by President Obama that called for the closure of detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. It states that detention operations will continue and that the administration is open to accepting additional detainees. Also, Secretary of Defense James Mattis will have three months to draw up policy recommendations on detention at Guantanamo and the process for dealing with potential detainees.

What’s the Impact?

The immediate effects are mostly symbolic, but this order reverses current U.S. policy and opens the door to increased use of the facility in the future. Both George W. Bush’s administration and Obama’s administration maintained that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility should be closed. President Obama’s executive order in 2009 ordered the closing of Guantanamo, but was never realized. The detention center remained in operation throughout the duration of his two terms, but the President transferred out many of the detainees, leaving 41 people remaining in the detention center today. Revoking this section of the 2009 executive order does not change the current conditions or procedures surrounding detention at Guantanamo, but it does signal that this administration has no intention of closing the detention center.

In fact, the order clearly indicates the administration’s willingness to detain suspected terrorists at Guantanamo and possibly expand the number of people detained there. This is a reversal of U.S. policy, as after March 2008, no new detainees were sent to the facility. To what extent the detention facility will be expanded remains to be seen. The full policy implications depend on the recommendations offered by Secretary Mattis, which will be announced three months from now.

This facility is a symbol of institutionalized Islamophobia, torture, and the flouting of international law. By embracing detention at Guantanamo Bay, this administration continues its history of implementing policies that hurt America’s moral standing in the international community. FCNL rejects the assumptions that our national security necessitates and justifies indefinite detention and the use of torture. This order highlights the need for strong and righteous voices to continue to call for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

To see a previous post detailing FCNL’s stance on Guantanamo Bay, click here.

Susan Nahvi

  • Program Assistant, Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Susan Nahvi advocates on behalf of FCNL in the area of Human Rights and Civil Liberties. She concentrates on several issues, including the Muslim travel ban, Islamophobia, and Syrian refugees. She writes articles that appear on FCNL’s website, lobbies members of Congress, and supports the work of Legislative Director Yasmine Taeb.