It’s not new that Republicans oppose the idea that closing a prison that has been for years now a symbol of U.S. disregard for human rights would be in the interests of the United States, having blocked administration proposals several times. And now, Republicans are already shooting down Obama’s renewed push, mostly based on previous proposals to transport detainees to “supermax” prisons in the United States:
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “There is wide, bipartisan opposition in Congress to the president’s goal of moving those terrorists to American cities and towns.”
- Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC): “[The detainees are] individuals hell-bent on our destruction and destroying our way of life.”
- Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “All of the prisoners housed at Guantanamo are terrorists. They pose an obvious threat to our national security, and they should not be allowed to set foot on our soil.”
- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN): “The American people expect us to keep them safe. I have yet to hear one good reason why moving these terrorists from off our shores right into the heart of our country makes us safer.”
- Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): “The president needs to realize that the Global War on Terrorism did not end with the killing of Osama bin Laden. The Boston bombing is a sharp reminder that there is still a clear and present threat to our American way of life from those that mean us harm.”
- Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN): “[Detainees] are not U.S. citizens and should not be given the same rights and privileges as if they were. [...] I do not support any plan for these prisoners that puts them on U.S. soil.”
The insistence that Guantanamo’s current population of 166 detainees must remain in place rather than reach U.S. soil is in itself based on a flawed premise. More than 200 international terrorists are currently serving out sentences in super-maximum security facilities in the United States, and — counter to GOP theories about the consequences of transferring detainees to the mainland — no convicted terrorist has escaped or attacked a prison in the U.S.
While Democrats are largely remaining silent on the issue thus far, not all Republicans are opposed to closing down the prison, with some seeming willing to work with the President on its closure — so long as they aren’t the ones that have to propose solutions. “I don’t agree with the reasons that have been offered, that they outweigh the use of Guantanamo,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told the Wall Street Journal, but maintained that she would be willing to work with the administration should they propose a new detention policy. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon — chair of the House Armed Services Committee — made a similar point in an op-ed this weekend, demanding a new detention suggestion from Obama before Gitmo can be closed.
Obama made his comments regarding Gitmo’s eventual closure at a press conference last week when asked about the ongoing hunger strike among the detainees imprisoned there. “I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively and I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people,” Obama said at the time.
Given the intransigence of Republicans, President Obama may be forced to go around Congress to release some Gitmo detainees. Several options are available to Obama including, as CAP expert Ken Gude pointed out, utilizing his authority to transfer detainees cleared for release from Gitmo to custody in their country of origin.