The arrival of a new president always presents a historic opportunity to energize and lead the nation. In his first 100 days, President Obama wasted no time charting a dramatic, if not controversial, course for domestic policy and showed an equal resolve to recast America’s image overseas. Many are concerned about the president’s positions and their national security implications.
On his second day in office, President Obama issued one of the most controversial decisions of his presidency: the closure of the U.S. military-run terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The presidential order mandates shuttering the Guantanamo Bay prison within one year. The move was motivated to satisfy a political agenda and ignores serious risks posed by the potential release of dangerous terrorists into the United States or to third countries with lax security arrangements.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently told lawmakers that terror detainees would not be moved to the U.S., however, he could not provide further details of their future status. Even if the majority of the Guantanamo terror detainees are transferred to other nations, a substantial number of the most hardened terrorists will be left behind with apparently no alternative plan to house them. Among these are Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists indicted for the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, plotter of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Each has made no secret of their hatred of America and their desire to inflict harm upon us.
Already there is strong public opposition to housing terror detainees in detention facilities within the United States. During the last week of April, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll concluded that a majority of Americans not only oppose closing the Guantanamo prison without a back-up plan, but they also disagree with the president’s selective release of government memos revealing U.S. terror interrogation procedures. The latter compromises our ability to effectively gather intelligence and prevent further terrorist attacks.
Members of President Obama’s own party have raised concerns about the Administration’s lack of a specific plan. House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, D-Wis., is withholding over $80 million in funding that the Administration requested to relocate the Guantanamo prisoners. Obey was recently joined by his Senate counterpart in freezing the funding until the White House provides more details about what will happen to these terrorists.
In response to the president’s decision to close Guantanamo without an announced alternative plan, House Republicans have introduced the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act. The bill states Congress’s opposition to releasing terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and transferring or releasing any terror detainees in the U.S. It would prohibit the Administration from transferring or releasing Guantanamo terror detainees to any state without approval from the governor and legislature. Furthermore, it would require that the Administration certify to states that a detainee would not pose a security risk. The Administration must also provide Congress advanced certification about a relocated detainee’s identification and that his relocation would not negatively impact his continued prosecution. Finally, the Administration must also disclose the ability of federal judges to release detainees into the country.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I visited the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo in late 2008 and saw first hand the conditions in which the terrorists are housed. A year before my arrival in Cuba, Huber Heights native, Army Colonel Bruce Vargo took command of the Guantanamo detention center, supervising the guards who monitor the prisoners. I was impressed with the professional manner in which he and his personnel performed their duties.
I am convinced that it would be difficult to replicate in another location the security environment that exists there, and certainly not inside the United States. The Administration must proceed very carefully in how it chooses to deal with these prisoners.