Conservative media attack Obama over reported intention to close Guantánamo Bay facility

Conservative media figures have baselessly asserted that President-elect Barack Obama's reported intention to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay would result in the release of terrorists and place the country at risk. In fact, news reports state that Obama is considering trials for some detainees and the potential release of others who have been cleared.

Amid reports that President-elect Barack Obama's transition team is developing a plan for closing the U.S. military-run detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, conservative media figures have baselessly asserted that such a plan would result in the release of terrorists and place the country at risk. For example, Fox News contributor Dick Morris claimed on the October 10 edition of Hannity & Colmes that “Obama's going to close Gitmo, and all of those people are gonna be back in the field, fighting against us.” On the same day, nationally syndicated radio host Lars Larson stated that the detainees are “garden-variety terrorists who I don't think are entitled to treatment under ... the American system of justice.”

Contrary to Morris' claim that “all of those people” will be released if Obama closes Guantánamo Bay, CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena, for example, reported on November 10 that “the incoming administration is pondering whether to try some of the Guantanamo Bay inmates in existing federal courts; set up a special national security court to deal with cases involving the most sensitive intelligence information; or release others.” Arena quoted a statement Obama made in an October 31 CNN interview: “I am not going to give a time certain because I think what we have to do is evaluate all those who are still being held in Gitmo. ... We have to put in place appropriate plans to make sure they are tried, convicted and punished to the full extent of the law, and that's going to require, I think, a review of the existing cases, which I have not had the opportunity to do.”

Larson's claim that all of the detainees in Guantánamo Bay are “garden-variety terrorists” is false. It is false, for example, with respect to a group of detainees belonging to the Uighur ethnic group from western China, who the Bush administration told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia are “no longer” enemy combatants. Nevertheless, the Bush Justice Department has fought the Uighurs' release -- which the court ordered on the grounds that “the government has already absolved the petitioners of this [enemy combatant] status” -- arguing that they should be held until a country agrees to take them in. (The Uighurs say their ethnic group is persecuted in China.) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reportedly stayed the men's release and scheduled a hearing for November 24.

From the November 10 broadcast of Westwood One's The Lars Larson Show:

LARS LARSON: Yeah, but here's what gets me -- tell me if any of this doesn't match what you've been hearing, 'cause, I mean, you're much closer to the centers of power. Gitmo's gonna close. We're gonna take all those jokers and give them basically a civilian trial and the full benefit of American jurisprudence instead of some special treatment as just, you know, garden-variety terrorists who I don't think are entitled to treatment under -- under our, you know, the American system of justice. And now we're gonna make the attorney general the woman who put up the walls between our agencies and, to a certain extent, created some of the conditions that the terrorists capitalized on? The terrorists are still terrorists, but they capitalized on flaws that were put there by people like this woman.

MARK TAPSCOTT (Washington Examiner editorial page editor): You know, Gitmo is one of those symbolic issues for an awful lot of people who backed Obama, and I suspect that it doesn't really make a difference who he appoints as an attorney general. They're going to close Gitmo at the first opportunity, and the consequences of that could be very, very dire indeed. On the other hand, there have been some number of these characters that have -- that have been released from Gitmo, who subsequently were recaptured or were killed on the battlefield, and perhaps some of these folks that are gonna be let go by an Obama administration will be killed on battlefields before they can do any more damage to Americans.

LARSON: Well, I worry that -- that we're going to give them -- we're gonna let them be loose within our country and get our level of justice, and if they're not convicted the countries that gave them up are not gonna want them back. So, are we stuck with them?

TAPSCOTT: Very valid concern, absolutely.

LARSON: Oh, boy.

From the November 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

ALAN COLMES (co-host): Dick, when you keep talking about Barack Obama is gonna have this radical agenda, we're gonna scare people into thinking he's gonna take the country way to the left. Isn't buying people's bad mortgages, buying up companies, investing in banks; isn't the Patriot Act, in terms of going after, you know, preemptive wars, the president able to declare anybody that he wants an enemy combatant -- aren't those things radical? Aren't those radical ideas we had from the past administration?

MORRIS: Well, let's -- let's take them one at a time. The Patriot Act. What Obama proposes to do is to say that -- and we write this in Fleeced -- if we have a group that we think is a terrorist organization, right now we can investigate them for six months in secret: infiltrate them, check their money sources, tap their phones. Obama wants to collapse that to a seven-day notice requirement.

You say home mortgages. We got into this problem because of our desire to let people borrow money with no money down and subsidized interest rates.

COLMES: Partly.

MORRIS: Those are not Republican voters that bought those homes. Those are low-income people that needed that kind of financial incentive and then couldn't pay the mortgage. And what Obama's gonna do --

COLMES: That's only one of the things, Dick. We also had the private companies that were --

MORRIS: -- is just continue this process.

COLMES: -- because of deregulation allowed to do what they did. And, you're -- you know, the whole idea that what this president has done -- enemy combatants, that he can declare anybody an enemy combatant -- people not having rights to an attorney --

MORRIS: Let's --

COLMES: -- locking people away without an opportunity for redress.

MORRIS: Well, let me --

COLMES: That's radical.

MORRIS: Alan, don't give me -- don't give me a smorgasbord. Let's take them one at a time.

Enemy combatants. As we point out in Fleeced, there have been 225 people released from Guantánamo, and 50 of them -- 50 of them -- have taken the battlefield and fought against American soldiers. And we know, because we've killed them or wounded them, and we have their proof -- the DNA -- that we had them under lock and key.

And now Obama's going to close Gitmo, and all of those people are gonna be back in the field, fighting against us.

COLMES: Well, we don't know that.

MORRIS: We need to make sure that this guy does not get near 60 votes, and that's why it's crucial to win this race in Georgia.

Lauryn Bruck is an intern at Media Matters for America