President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to keep the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base open to take in more prisoners captured abroad, if Congress approves.
Trump said he directed Defense Secretary to carry out the new policy on "Gitmo" just before he delivered his State of the Union address.
Former President Barack Obama tried for eight years to live up to a campaign promise to close Guantanamo and try those held there in U.S. courts but he was blocked by Congress.
In his address, Trump said he was keeping his own campaign promise. "I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay."
"I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists -- wherever we chase them down," he said.
"Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil. When possible, we annihilate them. When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them," Trump said.
"Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are," he said.
“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield," Trump said, but his executive order was aimed at detaining them indefinitely.
A White House statement on the executive order stated that it "affirms that the United States maintains the option to detain additional enemy combatants at [Guantanamo] when necessary."
About 41 detainees remain at Guantanamo 16 years after the facility opened. Of the more than 700 who have been held there since 2002, only a small minority of detainees have been charged with a crime, and fewer still have completed trial in a military court.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.