El Chapo Seen by Obama Aide as Aiding Case to Close Guantanamo

  • Rhodes says lawmakers clamoring for extradition from Mexico
  • Prisons can hold Mexican drug lord or terrorists, adviser says

One of President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers said Friday that bipartisan support for extraditing the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo to the U.S. may bolster administration arguments for transferring Guantanamo Bay prisoners to American soil.

“If our prison system is good enough for El Chapo, and good enough, by the way, for the Boston marathon bomber, good enough for Abu Khatalla, the mastermind of the Benghazi attacks, good enough for the Times Square bomber, it should be good enough for whatever remaining number of Gitmo detainees are there after we’ve completed a set of transfers,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said of Joaquin Guzman.

“Here’s a man who broke out of prison multiple times," Rhodes said, speaking at a lunch with Bloomberg editors and reporters on Friday. “I don’t see any grave concern being expressed about his potential extradition to serve his sentence in a U.S. prison.”

His remarks come a week ahead of the anniversary of Obama’s Jan. 22, 2009, order to close the U.S. naval prison on the island of Cuba, which the president has argued is a powerful recruiting tool for terrorist groups. Congress has blocked him from carrying out the closure without presenting lawmakers with a plan to do so.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a speech Thursday that he’s drawn up a proposal to Obama for review that would close the prison and move at least some detainees to the U.S.

That’s reignited criticism in Congress. Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Pat Roberts of Kansas released a statement Friday saying they would block any move of Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. Moving Guantanamo detainees “makes our nation less secure, and places a target square on an American community,” they said.

The announced transfer this week of 10 Yemeni detainees to Oman leaves the number of detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay at 93, some of whom are eligible for transfer to other countries. At least 10 of them could face U.S. charges. There were 242 detainees at the prison when Obama took office.

Guzman was recaptured this month after his escape in July from a Mexican prison with a mile-long underground tunnel and motorcycle on rails. He had previously been on the loose for more than a decade after a 2001 escape. He has been charged in the U.S. with crimes including drug trafficking and murder, and Mexican authorities have said they are willing to honor a U.S. extradition request. Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez has said extradition cases can take as long as five years.