Editorial Boards Call On Congress To Build On Obama's Plan To Shut Down Guantanamo Bay Prison

Editorial Boards Call On Congress To Build On Obama's Plan To Shut Down Guantanamo Bay Prison

››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH

Editorial boards around the country are urging Congress to work with President Obama to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, calling the facility "one of the most shameful chapters in America's recent history."

Obama Presents Plan To Close Guantanamo, Congressional Republicans Vow Opposition

The Hill: "GOP: Obama's Gitmo Plan Is 'Dead On Arrival.'" On February 23, The Hill reported that congressional Republicans "blasted President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility moments after he proposed it," referring to it as "a 'vague menu of options' and a 'press release.'" The Hill explained that the plan "proposes continuing to transfer eligible detainees and moving the remaining ones -- anywhere between 30 to 60 detainees -- into a facility in the U.S.":

Republicans on Tuesday blasted President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility moments after he proposed it, calling it a "menu of options" and a "press release" instead of a plan.

"What we received today is a vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo, let alone a coherent policy to deal with future terrorist detainees," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.

"The President has missed a major chance to convince the Congress and the American people that he has a responsible plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," added McCain, one of the few Republicans in the Senate who has said he would consider supporting closing the facility.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) responded: "Simply put: this plan is dead on arrival in the Senate."

The president's long-awaited plan proposes continuing to transfer eligible detainees and moving the remaining ones -- anywhere between 30 to 60 detainees -- into a facility in the U.S.

There are 91 detainees at the facility, with 35 eligible for transfer. Ten are facing military court proceedings, and 46 are currently not eligible for either.

The plan did not name a facility to transfer the detainees to, instead noting 13 sites that would serve as a "prototype" of facilities needed to house them. Seven of those sites -- in Kansas, Colorado and South Carolina -- were surveyed.

Republicans accused Obama of passing the buck to Congress on details.

"What the President submitted today is more press release than a plan," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said.

[...]

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) also argued that creating what some Republicans are calling a "Gitmo North" would not solve any problems.

"Aside from being illegal, closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp just does not solve any problems," he said. "Bluntly, it won't happen." [The Hill, 2/23/16]

Editorial Boards Urge Congress To Work With Obama And Build On His Plan To Close The Prison

NY Times: Guantanamo Is "One Of the Most Shameful Chapters In America's Recent History." On February 23, The New York Times editorial board argued in favor of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo, saying, "it would make the United States safer, help restore America's standing as a champion of human rights and save taxpayers millions of dollars." The board called Guantanamo "one of the most shameful chapters in America's recent history" and urged "the heads of the armed services committees in the House and Senate" to "seek to work constructively with the administration after it unveils its plan for closing the base":

The Obama administration this week will begin the task of trying to persuade Congress to support its plan to shut down the prison in Guantánamo Bay before the president leaves office in January.

Republican lawmakers all too often have been reflexive and thoughtless in their opposition to closing Guantánamo, one of the most shameful chapters in America's recent history. Closing the prison by the end of the year is feasible. It would make the United States safer, help restore America's standing as a champion of human rights and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

[...]

There will inevitably be a small number of detainees whom the government deems ineligible for prosecution and too dangerous to release. Officials at the Pentagon have been studying detention sites in the United States where they can be sent. Unfortunately, Congress has passed legislation that bars the administration from bringing Guantánamo detainees onto American soil.

White House officials have suggested that the ban unduly restricts the president's executive authority, raising the possibility of a constitutional showdown during the final weeks of the Obama presidency.

It shouldn't come to that. The heads of the armed services committees in the House and the Senate should seek to work constructively with the administration after it unveils its plan for closing the base. This will require inoculating the debate from the irresponsibly bellicose national security rhetoric of the Republican presidential candidates, some of whom have vowed to keep Guantánamo open indefinitely. [The New York Times, 2/23/16]

Washington Post: "Congress Should Build On President Obama's Plan To Close Guantanamo." On February 23, The Washington Post editorial board urged Congress to "build on President Obama's plan to close Guantanamo," writing that the plan "deserves more of a hearing" and that the president "rightly argued that this festering legacy of the George W. Bush administration's response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should not be passed on to the next president." The board also pointed out that Republicans' argument "that it would be too dangerous to hold al-Qaeda militants anywhere in the United States" is "unserious," noting that "Federal supermax prisons already securely house a number of dangerous terrorists, both foreign and domestic":

PRESIDENT OBAMA vowed as he took office seven years ago to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison, whose use for the holding of terrorism suspects arrested abroad long ago proved counterproductive. Thanks to congressional opposition, he has not fulfilled the pledge. On Tuesday, the president offered one more plan for doing so, only to be swiftly rebuffed by Republicans. Though the proposal was flawed, he deserves more of a hearing. As Mr. Obama rightly argued, this festering legacy of the George W. Bush administration's response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should not be passed on to the next president.

This administration bears some responsibility for Guantanamo's continuing role as a warehouse for prisoners who were captured in the early 2000s, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and held ever since. Since 2009, the Pentagon has moved only in fits and starts to review the cases of those held and to arrange the transfer of those freed for release. Mr. Obama has nevertheless managed to reduce the population from 238 to 91, of whom 10 are on trial in military commissions and 35 have been cleared for release to other countries.

[...]

Part of the resistance to closing Guantanamo comes from Republicans who insist that it would be too dangerous to hold al-Qaeda militants anywhere in the United States. This is unserious: Federal supermax prisons already securely house a number of dangerous terrorists, both foreign and domestic. The Obama administration has made a practice of transferring al-Qaeda suspects to the federal court system for prosecution, with good results. A legal study attached to the Pentagon report largely dismisses concerns that militants could eventually be released inside the United States.

[...]

Mr. McCain said his committee will "closely scrutinize and hold hearings" on Mr. Obama's proposal. That provides an opening for the administration to work with those in Congress who favor closing Guantanamo to develop a more detailed plan. It's not enough for the president to give speeches about shutting down the prison; he must offer specifics, and follow through on Capitol Hill. [The Washington Post, 2/23/16]

LA Times: "Congress Should Endorse The Goal Of Closing Guantanamo Rather Than Continuing To Stoke Fears." On February 24, the LA Times editorial board urged Congress to "endorse the goal of closing Guantanamo rather than continuing to stoke fears that imprisoning and trying suspected terrorists on American soil would endanger public safety." The board acknowledged that the plan "falls short" in dealing with the issue of "indefinite detention," but stressed that "the administration's proposal is vastly preferable to the status quo":

Seven years after issuing an executive order promising "promptly to close detention facilities at Guantanamo," President Obama pleaded with a skeptical Congress on Tuesday to accept a plan to shut that facility in Cuba and relocate some detainees to secure facilities in the United States. Congressional consent is necessary because of a law -- signed, albeit reluctantly, by Obama -- that prohibits the use of federal dollars to transfer Guantanamo inmates to the U.S. or to build facilities in the U.S. to house them.

The administration's proposal is vastly preferable to the status quo. Members of Congress should endorse the goal of closing Guantanamo rather than continuing to stoke fears that imprisoning and trying suspected terrorists on American soil would endanger public safety.

But it is worth remembering as this debate continues that the problem with Guantanamo is not so much its physical presence as its symbolic importance. The prison is a reminder of a disgraceful era in which the U.S. aroused the anger of the world by engaging in torture and extraordinary rendition and by holding suspected terrorists without trial for years on end. Closing the prison itself would be an important gesture, to be sure -- but ending the underlying behavior is even more important. [LA Times, 2/24/16]

San Francisco Chronicle: "Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison Is Tough But Necessary." On February 23, the San Francisco Chronicle called the prison at Guantanamo Bay "a disaster for the United States financially, morally and politically," concluding that "the whole country has an interest in seeing this prison shut." The board described the struggle to shut down the facility as "a case study in how difficult it's been for a president to complete a seemingly straightforward vow" due in part to "complex politics in Congress":

Eight years ago, Barack Obama made a campaign promise that if elected president, he would permanently close Guantanamo Bay, the purgatory-like offshore detention facility for enemy combatants.

On Tuesday, President Obama released a facility closure plan to Congress.

The interim years have been a case study in how difficult it's been for a president to complete a seemingly straightforward vow.

The Guantanamo facility has been a disaster for the United States financially, morally and politically. There are only 91 detainees left in the prison on Cuba; each one costs taxpayers more than $3 million per year. The cost for a detainee in federal maximum security prison is about $70,000. Only half are facing criminal charges. The prisoners have gone on hunger strikes to protest their continued detainment; the existence of the facility has been used as a terrorist recruiting tool around the world.

[...]

Local politicians in those states already have made their displeasure known, but it must not be up to them. The whole country has an interest in seeing this prison shut. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/23/16]

San Diego Union-Tribune: "It's Time To Close The Guantanamo Bay Prison." On February 23, The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board stated "it's time to close the Guantanamo Bay prison" and pointed out that "Congress could clear the way for domestic detention and help choose where to put detainees." The editorial board noted that "it's important to recognize we're talking about just 60 inmates in a nation that regularly and safely detains criminals of all stripes":

Let's briefly set aside the emotional arguments for and against closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and look at the the numbers.

It houses 91 inmates, 35 of whom are eligible for a transfer, and about 2,000 U.S. personnel at an annual operating cost of $180 million. That's $65 million to $85 million a year more than it would cost to house the detainees at a prison in the United States.

Close Gitmo? Yes.

[...]

Critics quickly panned President Obama's renewed call to close the prison Tuesday and pointed to legal hurdles that prevent detainees from being held on American soil. But Congress could clear the way for domestic detention and help choose where to put detainees.

[...]

It's time to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, and it's important to recognize we're talking about just 60 inmates in a nation that regularly and safely detains criminals of all stripes. These ones should be held securely but not indefinitely by a nation with the world's strongest Constitution and a budget that would benefit from restraint. [The San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/23/16]

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Congressional Republican's Fears Over Guantanamo Prison Transfers Are "Ridiculous" And "Irrational." On February 24, the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board claimed that congressional Republican's opposition to closing the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay and transferring prisoners to the United States is "irrational" as U.S. prisons have a successful history of detaining terrorists:

President Obama wants to close the prison, as he has wanted to do since 2008. He is right on the merits: Gitmo has come to symbolize a betrayal of American values to much of the world abroad -- and to many here at home. Indefinite detention without trial is the sort of thing one expects from Latin American juntas, not the world's greatest democracy.

Unfortunately, congressional Republicans have been exploiting an irrational fear of what might happen if Gitmo's detainees were transferred stateside. This is ridiculous. Federal supermax prisons such as the ADX facility in Colorado have long held a variety of radical terrorists: Ramzi Yousef, who helped bomb the World Trade Center in 1993; Terry Nichols, who helped Timothy McVeigh bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; Ali Salah al-Marri, an al-Qaida sleeper agent; Jose Padilla, the dirty bomber; and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber" who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, 2009.

All of those terrorists were tried in civilian court and convicted. The long parade of horribles that critics of closing Gitmo have dreamed up -- courtroom grandstanding, prison radicalization, escapes, perhaps even terrorist attacks on the courts -- never came to pass and have long since been forgotten.

All that remains is a sort of free-floating anxiety about having a terrorist mastermind as somebody's next-door neighbor -- which makes about as much sense as looking under the bed to make sure the boogeyman isn't there. Knee-jerk opposition to anything Obama proposes is to be expected in Washington. But it should not be allowed to entirely eclipse rational thought. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/24/16]

This post has been updated to include additional examples.

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