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Adam S.
Democrat CA 28

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  • Closing Guantanamo Bay

    by Representative Adam B. Schiff

    Posted on 2013-12-11

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    SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, when it was first opened in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Guantanamo Bay prison may have seemed a reasonable stopgap measure as a shocked Nation marshaled its resources and figured out how to dispose of detainees taken in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    But even in those early days, the problems we were creating with Guantanamo's patchwork of military rules and commissions were readily apparent. Since 2002, I have introduced numerous bills and amendments to try to bring Guantanamo into conformity with American and international law and to stop it from becoming a jihadi recruiting tool.

    But reform of this prison system has been elusive and progress towards bringing its detainees to justice almost nonexistent, as U.S. courts have taken strong issue with its improvised legal process.

    In one of his first acts as President, Barack Obama ordered the closing of Guantanamo, but the Congress almost immediately stepped in and erected a series of statutory barriers that have prevented the transfer of detainees to the United States and made transfer to third countries extremely difficult.

    Today, there is a renewed push by the administration to shutter Guantanamo for good. Doing so will not be easy, but the cost of keeping the prison open--to our values, to our pocketbook, to our reputation, and to our security--have become too great to bear.

    There are now 164 detainees at Guantanamo, 84 of whom have been cleared for transfer to their home country or another country willing to accept them. These detainees should be processed and transferred as soon as security considerations will allow.

    This would leave 80 remaining detainees, who are roughly split into two groups. The first group, which includes Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and other key 9/11 plotters, consists of detainees slated for trial under the military commissions that were established by the Bush administration.

    These proceedings have been mired in pre-trial wrangling; and the longer they drag on, the less legitimate the overall system appears. Meanwhile, our civilian judicial system, which many congressional critics have derided as not up to the task of handling terrorism cases, has disposed of a long line of defendants--from Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber, to Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, and Faisal Shaizhad, the Times Square Bomber--all successfully prosecuted in America's civilian courts, and none will ever be released again.

    {time} 1015 By lifting its restriction on transferring these detainees to the United States for trial, Congress could give the administration the flexibility to transfer many of those now in the military commission system to Article III courts for prosecution. These civilian courts can be more expeditious, more effective, and, in the eyes of the world, more just than military tribunals.

    The remaining detainees--some 46 men--will be the most difficult cases. These are detainees considered too dangerous to release or transfer, but who cannot be prosecuted. For some, evidence cannot be presented without revealing critical sources of intelligence and methods. Others were tortured, or evidence against them was collected through torture or some other unlawful means. For still others, the evidence of past acts and future dangerousness, while not sufficient to prosecute, argues compellingly against any release or transfer.

    The administration announced over the summer that it would begin a review of these cases, and as a result, others may be cleared for transfer or prosecution. It is likely that many, if not most, of the detainees in this final category will remain in American custody. But where? Even if we ultimately decide to maintain these detainees in custody, that does not justify continued operation of Guantanamo Bay. Instead, they should be transferred to civilian or military confinement in the United States, an option currently blocked by Congress.

    Every day that it remains open, Guantanamo Bay damages the United States. Because there are other, better options for prosecution and detention of these inmates, we are not safer for Guantanamo's existence. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable by drawing new generations to the jihad.

    The Congress, the administration, and the military can work together to find a solution that protects our people even as we maintain our principles and devotion to the rule of law. The President has indicated that he would like to work with Congress to end the Guantanamo era. We should take him up on that important challenge.


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