Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) isn’t sure whether this is the third or fourth time that he’s come close to closing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, he’s spent his last several terms in Congress pressing his colleagues to join him in working to finally shutter the prison after nearly a decade as a symbol of the United States’ mismanagement of its fight against Al Qaeda. And on Wednesday, he’ll have another chance to do just that.
Smith is the author of an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that, if passed, would provide a framework for the closure of Gitmo as the “Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act of 2014.” The seven page-long amendment would revoke the restrictions on transferring detainees from the military facility to prisons in the United States, cut off funding to the prison after 2016, and speed up the current Periodic Review Boards’ deliberations over the status of the detainees still at Guantanamo to be completed two months after passage. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday approved the amendment to be debated on the floor of the House along with dozens of other potential changes to the NDAA.
Co-sponsored with Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the bill bears a striking resemblance to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act of 2013, offered up as an amendment to last year’s NDAA. That measure failed last year by a vote of 174–249, with only two Republicans voting in favor. Previous attempts to close Guantanamo have gone just as well in the past, despite the fact that doing so would save the United States billions of dollars.
The Washington congressman is “not optimistic” on the chances of the latest version of this amendment passing, “but the fight’s gotta be fought,” he told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. Smith also was blunt on what he views as the chief impediment to closing Guantanamo: “Scare tactics. Scare tactics by the Republicans. The number one thing that has stopped it is the view that we can’t bring these people to the U.S.” Smith pointed out that there are currently over three hundred terrorists — including Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as “the Blind Sheik,” who plotted the 1993 World Trade Center bombings — being held in super-maximum security prisons within the United States and that none have escaped to date.
“We can absolutely house them here in the U.S.” Smith said. “But what Republicans successfully did as the momentum built in 2008 to close Guantanamo, when John McCain was in favor of it, when George W. Bush was in favor it, when [then-Secretary of Defense] Bob Gates was in favor of it, the counter-argument that Republicans came up was that we can’t bring these people to the U.S. That — that’s it right now. That’s the reason we’re not able move forward, because of the scare tactics that have been used of ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t bring terrorists into the U.S.’”
“There’s no logic to the argument if you play it out,” Smith continued. “Because the implication is we can’t safely hold people in the U.S. If that’s the case, we’re in a world of hurt, Gitmo or no Gitmo. But that’s the argument right now that has persuaded pretty much all Republicans, and even a few Democrats, to not want to touch this.” The job of convincing those Republicans and Democrats to lift the ban on bringing detainees to American may be running out, according to CAP expert Ken Gude, who’s previously noted at ThinkProgress that should the Republicans gain control of the Senate, the odds of Congress acting drop down to near zero.
“Republicans just have this mentality ‘this is a war, not a law enforcement issue,’” Smith said. “They’re very focused on the military and the simplicity of it,” accusing them of ignoring the evidence that civilian courts work. “Gosh, Lindsay Graham and I have had many arguments about this and he’s just, you know, ‘Well, you can’t Mirandize a terrorist,’” Smith said, slipping into a Southern drawl reminiscent of the South Carolina’s senior Republican senator. “Well, why not? It actually works quite well, that’s the way we lock them up,” he continued, noting that the U.S.’ ignoring of due process undermines American credibility when rebuking countries like Egypt for taking similar actions in combating terrorism.
Smith is also offering an amendment to prevent future suspected terrorists captured within the United States and its territories from being transferred to Gitmo. Another returner from last year’s NDAA debate, this years version is co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), one of the most conservative members of the House. While the draft would only cover those captured under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force targeting al Qaeda and others who carried out the 9/11 attacks, Smith more hopeful about the chances of this amendment than the one closing Guantanamo Bay. If passed, the amendment will do away with the indefinite detention clauses seen in 2012’s version of the NDAA that have concerned civil rights activists for years.
Wednesday night, the White House made clear just how strongly it back’s Smith’s amendment, threatening to veto the whole NDAA should it not pass. “This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions and enables the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “We call on Members of both parties to work together to ensure the United States meets this goal. If this year’s Defense Authorization bill continues unwarranted restrictions regarding Guantanamo detainees, the President will veto the bill.”