The Biden administration refused to send a witness to testify at a Democrat-led Senate hearing about shutting down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday as Republicans compared President Joe Biden's efforts to shut down the Cuban prison to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin lamented during his opening remarks that the Justice Department “is yet to bring its legal positions in line with the president’s goal of closing Guantanamo.” He said he was "disappointed" Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland had not yet responded to his letters calling for the facility to be shut down, adding: “I’m disappointed that the administration declined to send a witness to testify at today’s hearing about how they are working to close Guantanamo.”

Durbin vowed, “I’m going to continue to press this administration to take action and to end this injustice.”

The 9/11 case at Guantanamo Bay has been delayed many times following unfavorable Supreme Court decisions under President George W. Bush and an abandoned effort by President Barack Obama to try the men in a New York City federal court, with President Donald Trump vowing to keep the prison open and President Joe Biden now quietly working to end detainee operations there.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley also criticized the administration for not showing up to testify, suggesting it was because they did not have a plan for what to do with the terrorists.

"No one from the administration has come to defend the president’s plan to close Guantanamo," he said. "And I’m not sure that there is a plan. Setting a policy goal with no plan only invites disaster. Over the summer, we watched a no-plan approach unfold in Afghanistan.”


The Biden administration has said it wants to shut down detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay, but large-scale construction is still underway at the naval base’s “Camp Justice” to support the planned trial against the alleged 9/11 plotters.

In the two decades since 19 al Qaeda terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people, the five men believed to be responsible for the planning and execution of the plot have yet to stand trial.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, described as “the principal architect of the attacks," was a close ally of Osama bin Laden and was repeatedly waterboarded during numerous sessions while in U.S. custody. KSM is being tried in a death penalty case alongside four co-defendants.

The Taliban, which protected al Qaeda before they were deposed following the U.S. invasion in 2001, regained power in August.

Witnesses at Tuesday's hearing include Brig. Gen. John Baker, the outgoing chief defense counsel for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, and retired Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who was the first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo but has argued in favor of shutting it down.

Another witness, Charles “Cully” Stimson, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs under the Bush administration, has argued against closing the prison rashly.

Approximately 780 total suspected terrorists are known to have been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, and it is believed that 39 remain, according to the New York Times Guantanamo Docket tracker.

House Republicans who fought in the global war on terror told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in January they had "serious reservations" about the push to close it. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in February that Austin "believes that the Guantanamo detention facility should be closed."

In early September, Democrats blocked Republican amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have barred high-value Guantanamo Bay detainees from being brought to the United States.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday afternoon that Biden “absolutely remains committed to shutting down Guantanamo Bay, something he has stated many times in the past as vice president, running for office, et cetera.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified report in December 2020 on the terrorist “recidivism” of Guantanamo detainees. ODNI said that of the 729 detainees that had been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay as of August last year, 125, or 17.1%, were confirmed to be reengaging in terrorism, while 104, or 14.3%, were suspected of it.


No new detainees are believed to have arrived at Guantanamo since 2008. Bush transferred more than 500 of them out of the prison, and Obama transferred out an additional 144, including five high-ranking Taliban members who were part of a 2014 prisoner swap that secured the release of former Army soldier and deserter Bowe Bergdahl. All five of the so-called “Taliban Five” have been named to key roles in the Taliban’s new “caretaker” government in Afghanistan.

Durbin’s hearing coincides with the release of HBO’s The Forever Prisoner documentary on Abu Zubaydah, a terrorist facilitator and associate of bin Laden who has been indefinitely held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba since 2006. Zubaydah was waterboarded at a CIA black site in the wake of 9/11.