Gitmo needs to go. At least that’s what an assorted, bipartisan collection of our nation’s elected leaders and interest groups believe. President Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Rep. Jack Murtha and many human rights groups have gone on record calling for the closure of the now-infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention facility.
If you got these guys together in a room, they probably wouldn’t agree on much public-policy wise. Which is why their agreement on the need to close Gitmo is so surprising.
But it shouldn’t be. Guantánamo Bay has become the anti-Statue of Liberty; an icon around the world for everything the U.S. doesn’t stand for. By continuing to operate the facility we are emboldening our enemies, giving credence to their anti-American thoughts. Like Abu Gharib, Gitmo is a recruiting tool for radical Muslims bent on doing our country harm.
Detainees at Gitmo have no rights. Of the 396 detainees at the camp, approximately 80-100 have been found not to be a threat to the U.S. and are set to be released except that the government has been unable to relocate them to their home country. Only four detainees have been charged with a crime. The remaining Gitmo prisoners are being detained indefinitely.
Even if we wanted to try all 396 detainees, the facilities at Gitmo are inadequate. The base has only one courtroom and little work space or living quarters for attorneys and judges. The remote island location also makes it difficult to reach. Holding trials at Gitmo also casts doubt on the fairness of the outcome, simply because of the facilities reputation.
As a nation governed by the rule of law — one that espouses freedom and human rights — we set the example for democratic nations to follow. Gitmo is anathema to that effort.
The global war on terrorism cannot be won militarily. It is a war of ideas and philosophies. As long as we tolerate Gitmo’s existence, we allow ourselves to be outflanked in the court of public opinion overseas – not just in the Middle East but among our allies in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. There is a simple way we can undo this damage. And that is to shutdown the facility for good.
At the behest of Defense Appropriations Chairman Jack Murtha, I am developing a plan to close Gitmo. It could be achieved by cutting funds from the accounts in the Defense Appropriations bill that currently fund the facility. We will hold hearings on the bill in committee in the coming weeks. The legislation could be brought to the House floor for consideration as early this June.
The central question surrounding the closing of the detention center is what to do with the individuals who will continue to be detained. One option is to use the current military brig system, meaning we would send these detainees to military prisons in the U.S., some to be tried by a military commission. Those charged with crimes and convicted would be sentenced in an efficient manner. Those not charged with a crime would be held until found to no longer represent a danger to our nation. However, their continued detention, I believe, should be subject to review by the federal courts, and I will be working with the House Judiciary Committee to help make this possible.
There’s no perfect, clear-cut solution for closing Gitmo. But we can’t wait any longer to eliminate this symbol which unites anti-American hostility. Further delay only gives more ammunition to our enemies.