The Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility is a stain on our reputation as a nation. We are a country governed by the rule of law that respects justice and democracy. By holding over 380 detainees there for more than four years — of which only four have been charged with a crime — we undermine those values. Keeping Gitmo open provides a recruiting tool for extremists bent on doing us harm. Our values and ideals are what will win the global war on terror, not military might.
Last week, during debate on the FY’08 Defense Authorization bill, I was able to include an amendment that would require the Secretary of Defense to devise a plan for transferring detainees from Guantanamo. The problem in closing Gitmo lies not with the physical act of shuttering the detention facility but rather what to do with the 300 some detainees, the large majority of whom the government likely will not charge with a crime.
This amendment would provide Congress with an option on what to do with those detainees should it decide to close the facility — an action I’m fighting to advance. It also requires the Sec Def to identify who among the detainees it plans to charge, it plans to transfer in the next year and it plans to detain without charging.
One proposal for transferring the detainees which I believe should be considered is to put them in military prisons in the U.S. This idea was discussed at length on May 9th, during an Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing. Among the panelists our subcommittee heard from where Colonel Dwight Sullivan, Chief Defense Counsel in the Office of Military Commissions and Thomas Wilner, a lawyer who represents a number of detainees held at Guantanamo.
According to both Sullivan and Wilner, the single court that is available at Guantanamo lacks the basic necessities needed for trial. With the government estimating that as many Gitmo offers inadequate workspace, insufficient communication capabilities and is difficult to access. Cell phones can’t get reception there. The fax machine is often broken. The island base is accessible via one flight per day from Ft. Lauderdale, in an un-pressurized propeller plane. Once there, lawyers are quartered over an hour by bus and ferry from the facility. And everything is subject to delay by the military for unannounced security reasons.
Bringing detainees to U.S. military prisons means the charged will receive a speedy, fair trial, one in which international observers can follow and see that we will punish the guilty — but not without just cause and a fair trial. Even a fair, well-run trial at Guantanamo will carry the stench of its infamous location. We have the power to both rebuild our international standing and take away a tool of our own making that our enemies are using against us. We need to use it.