Next to bringing our troops home prematurely without giving the “surge” a chance to succeed, the last thing President Bush should do is shut the prison at Guantanamo.
Gitmo is a success. It keeps terrorists away from our shores and helps keep Americans safe. The prisoners at Gitmo were captured as members of al-Qaeda and fought against American soldiers to defend the Taliban. Interrogations have brought invaluable intelligence that has helped President Bush prevent further attacks on American soil.
Critics frequently call for Gitmo’s closure by claiming that prisoners are treated inhumanely and tortured. Inhumane treatment is beneath America, but I have visited the facilities at Guantanamo Bay and the conditions there are humane. There are five different camps for the detainees with varying levels of amenities and security measures. The detainees are distributed among the camps based on their compliance, their prominence, and whether they are considered dangerous to other prisoners and guards. The main camp, where most of the detainees are held, looks like a U.S. prison, except that there are arrows on the floor pointing toward Mecca to allow the prisoners to pray.
After Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s inexcusable remarks comparing Camp Delta to a “gulag,” a bipartisan group of 14 Congressmen and women visited the prison and found no instances of abuse. Instead, they reported that the prison officials were sensitive to the cultural mores of the detainees. Officials even have formal policies for appropriately handling copies of the Quran. Each day the detainees are given three culturally appropriate meals. They have daily opportunities to shower, exercise, and receive medical attention. Furthermore, the International Committee of the Red Cross is in Guantanamo, ensuring that detainees from Afghanistan receive fair treatment under International Humanitarian Law.
More than 1,000 journalists have visited Gitmo. In the history of warfare, there has probably never been a detention center more transparent than Guantanamo Bay.
One option the Administration has considered is moving the terrorists from Guantanamo to the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The primary goal of American foreign policy should be to keep terrorists off of our soil. Why would we intentionally move known terrorists here? Imagine the justifiable outcry from residents living near these prisons. The security and first-responder costs would be enormous. Furthermore, Guantanamo Bay’s isolation protects it from terrorist strikes.
My visit to Gitmo also assured me that the military takes seriously its obligation to detain terrorists and release those who are innocent. No one favors incarceration of innocent people. America has released prisoners from Gitmo that it did not have sufficient evidence to detain. We know that some of these prisoners have returned to the battlefield to fight U.S. soldiers. The combatant status reviews held for each prisoner at Guantanamo Bay are literally adjudications that could mean life and death for American citizens. These are wartime adjudications. The safeguards of the American legal system should not be afforded to individuals whose only connections to America are the plots to kill its citizens. Our judicial system is not for their theatrics.
I shepherded the Military Commissions Act through the House last year. This law authorizes the President to establish military commissions to try unlawful enemy combatants. This bill establishes a fair and effective process to prosecute terrorists without compromising intelligence sources and national security. This legislation also protects the rights of those charged by permitting them to mount a full defense and maintain access to our federal courts. I believe that the Military Commissions Act strikes the right balance by establishing a system that is fair, yet also orderly.
We need to continue holding terrorists and continue to prevent them from fighting our troops and plotting against America. Alan Liotta, Principal Director for the Defense Department’s Office of Detainee Affairs, recently said, “When you capture a lawful enemy combatant and hold them as a prisoner of war, you are entitled, under the laws of war, to hold that individual until the end of the conflict. And the reason for that is because you’re trying to diminish the enemy’s capacity to fight.”
We are at war, and the terrorists are our enemy. It is our government’s job to diminish their capacity to do us harm. So, rather than shut down Gitmo, I believe that it should be expanded to detain even more radical terrorists.