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Guantanamo 'prepared' for new inmates, says US admiral

In this file photo taken on January 26, 2017 a guard tower is seen outside the fencing of Camp 5 at the US military's prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by AFP)

A high-ranking US military official says the Guantanamo Bay military prison is "prepared" to receive new detainees, echoing a departure from Obama-era policies to shut-down or sideline the infamous detention camp.

In January, US President Donald Trump signed a new executive order to keep open Guantanamo reversing his predecessor Barack Obama's ultimately fruitless 2009 directive to shut down the detention center.

"We have 41 detainees who are there right now. We are prepared to receive more should they be directed to us," said Admiral Kurt Tidd, who oversees the US military's Southern Command that includes the Guantanamo prison.

"As of today we have not been given a warning order that new detainees might be heading in our direction, but our responsibility will be to integrate them in effectively," he said.

Trump fixation with Guantanamo

Guantanamo has not received any new inmates since 2008 but on his campaign trail, Trump constantly vowed to load the facility with "bad dudes," and said it would be "fine" if US terror suspects were sent there for trial, marking the start of a new chapter for the prison if he becomes president.

Trump also highlighted Guantanamo in his first State of the Union speech, emphasizing that the facility would remain open and detainees would be once again sent to the prison.

"I just signed, prior to walking in, an order directing (Defense) Secretary (Jim) Mattis ... to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay," Trump said in his State of the Union speech.

"I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And In many cases for them it will now be Guantánamo bay."

Obama had pledged during his 2008 presidential campaign to close the military prison, but failed to fulfill his promise in the face of stiff opposition from the Congress.

In a speech in December 2016, he expressed disappointment over failure to close the prison during his term in office, saying it was a disgrace and a waste of money.

"We are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to keep fewer than 60 people in a detention facility in Cuba,” the former president said during his last security speech in the US state of Florida. “That’s not strength … And I will continue to do all that I can to remove this blot on our national honor."

Human Rights First, a human rights organization based in New York City, estimates the annual cost of keeping a prisoner in Guantánamo at more than $10 million, compared with $78,000 at a Federal high-security prison in the US.

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