Senate Considers Closing Guantanamo Detention Facility
WASHINGTON — The fiasco of international politics created by the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, drew calls to close it down from some lawmakers Tuesday at a Senate hearing.
They described the detention facility that has held suspected Muslim terrorists for 20 years as an affront to American principles of justice.
Only 12 of the remaining 39 Guantanamo detainees are charged with crimes, many related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States. The others are suspected terrorists.
“Two-thirds have never been charged in 20 years,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “How can that possibly be justice?”
The U.S. government imprisoned them at Guantanamo Bay beginning in January 2002 under military authority as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan moved into high gear.
Since 2002, the prison has held about 780 detainees. Most have been released, either because of a lack of evidence to prove their terrorist activities or because their native countries allowed them to serve their prison time at home.
President George W. Bush’s authority for long-term detention of the others was derived from the Military Commissions Act approved by Congress in 2006. The controversial law allows the president to designate suspected terrorists as “unlawful enemy combatants.”
As a result, their freedom or imprisonment was determined by military commissions rather than civilian courts, meaning detainees could claim fewer civil rights than in regular trials. The special military authority was blamed for leading to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” also known as torture.
“There is no end in sight for these military commissions,” Durbin said. “We can and we must do better.”
He said imprisoning the detainees has lessened U.S. prestige internationally and emboldened Muslim extremist adversaries.
The detention facility costs American taxpayers $540 million a year to keep it open, or $13 million for each of the remaining 39 detainees, according to a congressional report.
Leading proposals for change would allow the detainees to be given trials and transferred to prisons on the U.S. mainland. They also might be allowed to negotiate plea bargains to complete sentences in U.S. or foreign prisons.
Some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee described the proposals as naive.
They said they overlook the fact that the detainees are often hardcore terrorists who would return to plotting attacks against the United States as soon as they are released. They also said successful prosecutions at civilian trials would be nearly impossible because they would require gathering evidence from combatant terrorist organizations.
Nearly 32% of detainees already released “have rejoined their war against the United States,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
He criticized the Biden administration for seeking release of the remaining detainees with no plan for protecting against further terrorism from them.
“In making a decision on matters of national security we must ask whether a course of action makes the American people more safe or less safe,” Grassley said. “Releasing terrorists who will only attack us again does not protect the American people.”
He was joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who discussed the Taliban’s quick return to power in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal in August.
“Twenty years after 9/11, the Taliban are back in charge,” Graham said.
Military analysts have told Congress that the Taliban, possibly joined by ISIS and al Qaeda, are regrouping with an apparent motive of striking the United States again.
Graham dismissed allegations of civil rights violations against detainees who have been deprived of speedy trials by saying, “This is not a criminal enterprise, this is a war.”
Neither supporters or critics of closing the Guantanamo detention facility doubted the horror stories of the terrorist attacks, one of which was retold during the hearing by New York resident Colleen Kelly. Her brother was killed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, while attending a business meeting.
While he was trapped inside the burning building, he messaged family members to say he was awaiting firefighters to free him.
Instead, “343 firefighters lost their lives that day attempting to do just that,” Kelly said.
She added, “I watched my brother, Bill, being murdered, one agonizing moment after another.”
Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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