Earlier this week, State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino issued a statement saying that over 700 Daesh prisoners being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) constituted a "shared international security challenge." He said the US "calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin."
While Palladino didn't mention Guantanamo, it was only two weeks ago that four Republican senators — Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — wrote a letter to US President Donald Trump on the subject of the "battle-hardened terrorists" being held by the SDF, US support for which is waning as US forces withdraw from Syria, taking their loaned military equipment with them.
"We urge you to consider transferring the worst of these Islamic State fighters to the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, where they will face justice," the senators wrote.
A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity told AP the US had singled out about 50 of the SDF prisoners as "high value" suspects to be sent to Guantanamo if they aren't repatriated.
While the preferred outcome is repatriation and prosecution in the prisoners' home countries, "the Administration's National Strategy for Counterterrorism makes very clear that Law of Armed Conflict detention, including at Guantanamo, remains an important and effective counterterrorism tool," the State Department told AP in response to questions about the prisoners.
If any of the prisoners were sent to the facility on the southeastern tip of Cuba, they would be the first since March 2008, McClatchy notes, when Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani was transferred to the prison.
At the height of its use as a prison facility, Guantanamo held nearly 700 prisoners. International outcry against the detentions caused the release of most of them, but 40 remain, nine of whom are facing lengthy trials, the Miami Herald noted.
Base spokesperson Navy Cdr. Adam Bashaw told AP for a Friday article the prison can hold 40 more people "with no additional staffing" and potentially another 160 "with minimal adjustments to current infrastructure and manpower."
However, the US' ability to detain Daesh prisoners at Guantanamo has never been firmly established.
"No court has ever once had the case, and the executive branch for many years has really not wanted the court to answer that question," Robert Chesney, a national security law professor at the University of Texas, told AP.
By the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Congress granted the US state authority to detain prisoners with suspected links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but whether or not that applies to Daesh, a spinoff of a spinoff of al-Qaeda, remains to be decided.
However, it's not as if the US hasn't bent the constraints of the AUMF to its own ends: it continues to be the excuse of choice for US officials seeking to justify US involvement in various undeclared wars across Africa and the Middle East, from Somalia and Libya to Yemen and Pakistan, Sputnik has reported.