Artificial Deadline To Close Guantanamo Is Dangerous Policy

Senator Says Closing the Facility Could Allow Terrorists to Return to the Battlefield

March 23, 2009

Within the first 48 hours of his administration, President Obama ordered the closure of the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the end of 2009.  In doing so, the president set an artificial deadline to shut down a facility that houses some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists without having a plan in place for what to do with them once the facility is closed.  President Bush had also stated his desire to close Guantanamo, but ultimately did not move forward because of a lack of a practical, safe alternative.     

Before President Obama moves hastily to close this facility, he needs to ensure an alternative plan has been secured that will protect our nation and our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as effectively as Guantanamo has.  So far, no such alternative exists.  Until we have a concrete way forward, the Obama administration should rethink its artificial deadline to help ensure America’s security.

                            DANGEROUS TERRORISTS
Speaking on the Senate floor in 2006, then-Sen. Obama said: “The vast majority of the folks in Guantanamo, I suspect, are there for a reason.  There are a lot of dangerous people.  Particularly dangerous are people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”  In naming the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Mr. Obama highlighted how dangerous the Guantanamo detainees are.  Other inmates include terrorist trainers, bomb makers, would-be suicide bombers, and former bodyguards to Osama Bin Laden.  These terrorists are clearly intent on killing innocent people, which is exactly why we need an alternative arrangement for what to do with them before we rush to close the Guantanamo facility. 

Such a solution, however, remains elusive.  Just last week, European countries that had previously offered to help by taking some of the Guantanamo detainees began to backpedal.  Some of these countries have stated they will not accept terrorist detainees unless our country agrees to place some of them in U.S. prisons.  This is an idea that I reject out of hand, as do the vast majority of my Senate colleagues.  Last summer, the Senate voted 94-3 against the idea.  It is also worth noting that two key members of President Obama’s team – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from Colorado and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, the president’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services – oppose bringing Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., in large part because their home states have been discussed as locations to house the terrorists.     

Further complicating matters are the troubling number of former Guantanamo detainees who have rejoined the fight and killed innocent people after being transferred to other countries for detention or released outright.  According to the Pentagon, nearly 12 percent of those released from Guantanamo are either confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorist activity.  These numbers prove it is too risky to outsource our nation’s security to other countries. 

Additionally, we need to remember that the global war on terror is not over.  As the fight carries on, we will continue to need a secure facility to detain and question dangerous terrorists that are captured.  If Osama Bin Laden is captured after Guantanamo has been shuttered, will we send him back to his home country of Saudi Arabia for interrogation and incarceration?  
                           SAFE AND EFFECTIVE OPTION
A recent Pentagon review of the conditions at Guantanamo should erase any concerns that the prisoners are not being treated humanely.  The review – ordered by President Obama – found the facility’s conditions are in line with the Geneva Conventions.  The inmates are given three meals a day, are allowed to worship five times a day, have access to a library that has over 12,000 items in 19 different languages, and have access to first-rate medical care.  These terrorist combatants are treated as well or better than inmates in the U.S. federal system. 

The simple fact is that the Obama administration has set the clock on when to close this effective terrorist detention center, yet has no firm plan for what to do next.  Artificial deadlines are always troubling in relation to national security, and this is no different.  President Obama should not make a knee-jerk decision about how and when to close Guantanamo Bay, even if it means reversing his decision to close the facility at the end of this year.  Until we have a better solution at hand, the safest and most effective option is to continue keeping these terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.