Last night on Fox News, host Greta Van Susteren and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were discussing President Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay terror detainee prison. During the segment, Graham — who, with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), had written a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the subject that day — argued that the military or the CIA, not the federal justice system, should determine which detainees represent a threat to the U.S.
Van Susteren noted that “we’re still holding people who haven’t done anything.” “No, that’s not true,” Graham said, adding that “every one of them” has “gone through a military board, and the military labeled them an enemy combatant.” According to Graham, “You can hold an enemy prisoner as long as the war is going on” or “forever,” as he later pointed out:
VAN SUSTEREN: Does anyone want them?
GRAHAM: Well, I don’t care. If we can’t give them to somebody else. My point is, Greta, if you’re a part of the enemy force, we can hold you forever.
Graham is simply wrong in claiming that all Gitmo detainees are “enemy combatants.” Last October, the Bush administration’s Justice Department declared that all 17 Chinese Muslim (Uighurs) prisoners at Guantanamo were no longer to be designated as such. One week later, a federal judge ordered that they be released “because the government provided no proof that they were enemy combatants or security risks.” Yet they still remain there today. In fact, as far back as 2003, the Pentagon concluded that they could be released.
Graham can justify his belief that terror detainees are outside the purview of civilian courts and thus can be held “forever” because he views combating terrorism as “a war,” one that can presumably carry on indefinitely because the concept of “terrorism” will never simply end. But the American criminal justice system is equipped to hold full legal trials while protecting classified evidence and state secrets. Indeed, as Attorney General Eric Holder noted, terror suspects deserve “due process rights that I think are consistent with who we are as Americans.”