Senator Dick Durbin (D. IL) may not be perfect and I may not see eye to eye with him on every issue. But this particular issue, I'm happy to see him take the lead on:
More below the fold.A Senate committee took up the issue of closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay yesterday for the first time since 2009 – but anyone looking for signs that the prison will be closed in the near term was likely to be disappointed. The hearing was called by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), with a witness list including former members of the military and human rights advocates. In opening remarks, Durbin said he "never imagined in 2013 that Guantanamo would still be open," and yet, he added, some of his colleagues argue it should remain open indefinitely. Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) criticized the practice of indefinite detention, saying it "violated our most basic principles of justice," while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said that the cost of holding prisoners there is $2.67 million per detainee, higher than previously reported.
A months-long hunger strike by detainees has put the issue of how to close Guantanamo back in the headlines; President Obama addressed the subject in his May 23rd speech on national security. Since then, a special envoy position in the Defense Department has been created, but it remains vacant. The State Department envoy for Guantanamo, Clifford Sloan, hasn't shown any visible progress in restarting detainee transfers. As of now, 69 detainees remain on hunger strike, with 45 on the force-feeding list. Though the number of hunger strikers has decreased since July 11th, the number of detainees listed for force-feeding has remained nearly constant. There are a total of 166 people held at Guantanamo, 86 of whom were cleared for transfer by a 2010 Obama review task force.
In the hearing, ranking member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested that President Obama thinks the United States should take a "holiday" from the war on terror. (Leahy pushed back on this characterization of the president's policies.) Cruz and others brought up the perceived threat of detainee recidivism several times during the hearing, which lasted one hour and 45 minutes. He cited a Director of National Intelligence report that put recidivism at 28 percent for people released from Guantanamo – though Human Rights First president and CEO Elisa Massimino, a witness on the panel, noted that this figure counts detainees with associations with militant groups, as opposed to the number that have actually engaged in violent activity themselves. Other credible reports put that number much lower, in the low single digits.
Durbin, meanwhile, suggested that there was no need to worry about releasing Guantanamo detainees, because the U.S. could always kill them using drones if necessary – as happened earlier this year with Saeed al-Shihri, a top operative in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It was an unintentionally revealing statement that gave credence to human rights advocates' belief that Obama and his Congressional allies favor killing terror suspects over detaining them. - Rolling Stone, 7/25/13
Durbin's been doing a Hell of a job making strong arguments for closing Guantanamo Bay despite deep divisions among members of a Senate panel over whether to close Guantanamo Bay:
Opening the first Senate hearing on closing Guantanamo since 2009, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday that it's time to end a "sad chapter" in American history and close Guantanamo.
The Obama administration can do more to begin closing the prison, according to Durbin, but he said the blame for the failure to shutter the much-maligned facility rests primarily with Congress.
Restrictions enacted by Congress on the transfer of terror suspects at Guantanamo — including a ban on moving detainees to the U.S. - have undercut President Barack Obama's authority and made it nearly impossible to close the facility, he said.
"It's time to lift these restrictions and move forward with shutting down Guantanamo prison," said Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and human rights.
"We can transfer most of the detainees to foreign countries," he said. "And we can bring the others to the United States, where they can be tried in federal court or held under the law of war until the end of hostilities." - AP, 7/24/13
Plus keeping Guantanamo Bay open costs a lot of money:
Durbin's biggest opponent on closing Guantanamo Bay is none other than fellow committee member, Senator Ted Cruz (R. TX):Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told Congress Wednesday it will cost $454 million to operate the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Hagel included the cost in a report sent to the House Armed Services Committee, and two top Senate Democrats -- Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California -- announced the figure at a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing, The Hill reported.
The Hill said it had obtained the report on Guantanamo operating costs that Hagel had provided to Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. The Hill said the Pentagon report concluded the United State has spent $4.7 billion to operate the detainee facility since 2002.
"This is a massive waste of money," said Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Durbin said at Wednesday's hearing the cost-per-detainee at Guantanamo -- $2.7 million per year, compared to $78,000 at "supermax" prisons -- "would be fiscally irresponsible during normal economic times, but it is even worse when the Defense Department is struggling to deal with the impact of sequestration." - UPI, 7/24/13
But retired members of the military argue that keeping Guantanamo Bay open causes more harm than good:"The reality is that every day that it remains open, the Guantanamo prison weakens our alliances, inspires our enemies and calls into question our commitment to human rights," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that heard the testimony.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, contradicted Durbin’s sentiments, citing terrorist attacks in Boston, Benghazi, Libya, and Fort Hood, Texas, as proof that the U.S. is still a target."Until we are presented with a good, viable strategy for what to do with terrorists who would work night and day to murder innocent Americans, I have a hard time seeing how it is responsible to shut down our detention facilities and send these individuals home where they . . . almost surely would return to threaten and kill more Americans," he said.
The detention center, which was opened in January 2002, currently holds 166 prisoners, 86 of whom have been cleared for release. Another 46 have been designated to be held indefinitely but won’t face criminal charges. - The Island Packet, 7/24/13
And despite Cruz's objection, Guantanamo Bay detainees will have to be tried or incarcerated in the U.S. at some point:On the eve of a Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 26 of the nation’s most respected retired military leaders are urging members of the committee to support steps to shutter the facility.
In a letter to subcommittee Chairman Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the retired admirals and generals wrote: “Terrorists aim to sow fear, and thereby to cause us to change who we are. We should demonstrate our moral courage by standing true to our values and laws. Closing Guantanamo is a necessary step forward in reaffirming our commitments to ourselves and to the world. We welcome this Committee’s hearing on Guantanamo and urge the Committee to explore how to remove any remaining impediments to closing the Guantanamo chapter in our history.”
The retired military leaders note that the torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo – acts that violated the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and domestic laws – diminished the United States’ moral standing in the world, and as long as the prison remains open, it will be a dark reminder of our past. They also note that the ongoing military commissions at Guantanamo [cut: in their many incarnations,] remain illegitimate in the eyes of the world.
“When the presiding judge cannot answer whether the U.S. Constitution applies and the CIA was discovered to have the ability to censor the proceedings, among so many other delays and questions, the commissions are seen as a poor substitute for justice,” they wrote. - Human Rights First, 7/23/13
Durbin's call for closing Guantanamo Bay is also backed by President Obama's call to close the U.S. detention:“Congress needs to accept that at least some Guantánamo detainees will end up in the U.S. for incarceration or trial in some form,” said Ken Gude, vice president of the Center for American Progress. “One former Guantánamo detainee is currently residing in the maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado, so the world isn’t ending. Congress has to accept that we are a dozen years past 9/11 and Osama bin Laden is dead.”
Legal barriers now prohibit defense funding from being used to transfer any Guantánamo detainees to the United States for any reason, including medical. It is that amendment, listed in the National Defense Authorization Act, that must be changed to start the process of Guantánamo extraditions.
What proponents of closing Guantánamo are hoping to see from Wednesday’s hearing is a proposal to address attacking that NDAA amendment and a follow-up game plan for Guantánamo transfers.
“I’m encouraged that we seem to have some movement from Congress because we can’t close Guantánamo without congressional action,” Gude said. “I’m an optimist, I think this is possible. I think a combination of factors are different this time around than they were in the past.”
Other members of Congress are investigating the Guantánamo prison situation and the more than 100 hunger strikers. Led by Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, a group of Virginia congressmen including fellow Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, GOP Rep. Frank Wolf, and an unconfirmed Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, will visit Guantánamo July 26 for meetings with officials there. - The Daily Beast, 7/24/13
Before the hearing began, Senator Durbin apologized for not holding a hearing about this in five years. I thank Senator Durbin's continued work to close Guantanamo Bay. Please do thank him for continuing this fight:During a May 23 speech at the National Defense University, Obama announced a renewed push to transfer approved detainees to their home countries and lifted a ban on prisoner transfers to Yemen. The bulk of the prisoners eligible for transfer are Yemeni. Obama halted all transfers to the poor Middle Eastern nation in 2010, after a man trained in Yemen was convicted in a failed bombing attempt of an airliner over Detroit.
Obama promised other steps that have yet to be taken. He appointed Clifford Sloan, a Washington attorney, to reopen the State Department’s Office of Guantanamo Closure. But he has yet to name an envoy at the Defense Department who would negotiate the transfer of detainees to third countries.
He also directed the Defense Department Defense to designate a site in the United States that could hold military commissions, a special tribunal for wartime offenses. That site has yet to be announced, however. - Washington Post, 7/24/13
And please do contact the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and tell them to work together to finally close Guantanamo Bay:
Patrick Leahy (D. VT): (202) 224-4242
Dianne Feinstein (D. CA): (202) 224-3841
Chuck Grassley (R. IA): (202) 224-3744
Chuck Schumer (D. NY): (202) 224-6542
Orrin Hatch (R. UT): (202) 224-5251
Jeff Sessions (R. AL): (202) 224-4124
Sheldon Whitehouse (D. RI): (202) 224-2921
Lindsey Graham (R. SC): (202) 224-5972
Amy Klobuchar (D MN): (202) 224-3244
John Cornyn (R. TX): (202) 224-2934
Al Franken (D. MN): (202) 224-5641
Michael Lee (R. UT): (202) 224-5444
Chris Coons (D. DE): (202) 224-5042
Ted Cruz (R. TZ): (202) 224-5922
Richard Blumenthal (D. CT): (202) 224-2823
Jeff Flake (R. AZ): (202) 224-4521
Mazie Hirono (D. HI): (202) 224-6361