Ten Years is Enough: National Security Leaders on Guantanamo

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Ten Years is Enough: National Security Leaders on Guantanamo

Ten years after the opening of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, political debate rages on. But the military who run it and security officials who tracked its inmates have a surprisingly united view: the facility should be closed and as many of its inmates as possible tried in U.S. courts.  With David Petraeus pointing out that “the enemy continues to beat you with them [Guantanamo conditions] like a stick,” and retired officers from four-star Marine generals to the prison’s first warden calling for it to be closed, it is time for Congress and the administration to work together to craft a solution based on effective counterterrorism, not fear-mongering.

Gitmo is “hugely costly” to America’s national security and its wallet. Security professionals cite a litany of negative effects that Guantanamo Bay Prison has on America’s national security, including:

Serving as a recruitment poster: General Charles Krulak (ret), former commandant of the Marine Corps, and General Joseph Hoar (ret), former CENTCOM Commander, recently wrote that legislation ensuring that the prison at Guantnamo Bay remains open would “bolster Al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts.”  As Matthew Alexander, the Air Force interrogator who, hunted down the notorious Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq, says: “The longer it stays open the more cost it will have in U.S. lives.” [Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar, 12/13/11. Matthew Alexander via NY Times, 1/21/10]

Hindering international cooperation on security: David Kris, former assistant attorney general for national security, writes that, “[M]any of our key allies around the world are not willing to cooperate with or support our efforts to hold suspected  terrorists  in  law of war detention or to prosecute them in military commissions. While we hope that over time they will grow more supportive of these legal mechanisms, at present many countries would not extradite individuals to the United States for military commission proceedings or law of war detention.  Indeed, some of our extradition treaties explicitly forbid extradition to the United States where the person will be tried in a forum other than a criminal court.” [David Kris, 6/15/11]

Exceedingly expensive Journalist Carol Rosenberg writes in Foreign Affairs that, “[T]he detention center enters its eleventh year on January 11. Guantánamo is arguably the most expensive prison camp on earth, with a staff of 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians managing a compound that contains 171 captives, at a cost of $800,000 a year per detainee. Of those 171 prisoners, just six are facing Pentagon tribunals that may start a year from now after pretrial hearings and discovery.” And as the New York Times’s Scott Shane points out, that “$800,000 per inmate a year, [is] compared with $25,000 in federal prison.” [Carol Rosenberg, 12/14/11. NY Times, 12/10/11]

Bipartisan and national security experts from across the spectrum agree: Close Guantanamo.

General Charles C. Krulak (ret) and General Joseph P. Hoar (ret): “We should be moving to shut Guantánamo, not extend it.” [Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar,12/13/11]

 Colonel Terry Carrico (ret), first warden of Guantánamo Prison, tells the Daily Beast/Newsweek that the prison should be closed: “The retired colonel says Guantánamo ‘should be closed,’ …  Carrico also says plainly that he believes it is wrong to keep people indefinitely without trial based on secret evidence… ‘Due process of law, all the things that we stand for as a country, and being a country of laws, it doesn’t sit well with me that we are going to continue to keep people in Guantánamo,’ he said.” [Terry Carrico via Daily Beast, 1/6/11]

 John Brennan, career CIA officer and chief counterterrorism advisor to President Obama: “The prison at Guantánamo Bay undermines our national security, and our nation will be more secure the day when that prison is finally and responsibly closed.” [John Brennan, 9/16/11]

 General David Petraeus (ret), current CIA director and former CENTCOM commander and commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, has repeatedly called for the detention center to be closed. In 2010 on Meet the Press he stated: “I’ve been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed… I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values.  And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside… Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don’t go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.” [David Petraeus via NBC, 2/21/10]

 General Colin Powell (ret), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration: “I think Guantanamo has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have at Guantanamo to justify their own– their own positions… And so I think we ought to remove this incentive that exists in the presence of Guantanamo to encourage people and to give radicals an opportunity to say, you see, this is what America is all about. They’re all about torture and detention centers.” [Colin Powell via CBS, 2/21/10]

 Brigadier General Michael Lehner (ret), the man responsible for setting up the Guantanamo facility, has called for the facility to be closed, saying that it caused the U.S. to lose the moral high ground in the eyes of the world: “[F]or those who think our standing in the international community is important, we need to stand for American values. You have to walk the walk, talk the talk.” [Michael Lehner, 9/25/09]

 Twenty retired generals and admirals: “[W]e oppose any provisions that would require that all future foreign terror suspects be sent to Guantanamo or tried before a military commission. We should not turn criminals into warriors by trying them before military commissions. The military’s mission should not be expanded to become judge, jury and jailor for all foreign terror suspects.  Federal courts have more criminal laws to incapacitate terrorists, more precedent to guide them, and more experience in adjudicating these laws than military tribunals. Federal courts have obtained more than 400 convictions of persons on terror related crimes, while commissions have convicted only six.  We do not support making permanent certain restrictions governing detainees at the Detention Facility at Guantanamo for the same reasons.” [Letter, 6/15/11]

 America’s civilian courts remain the most effective way to deliver justice. In an extensive investigation into the civilian system’s handling of terrorism cases in the U.S., the New York Times’s Scott Shane found that, “The criminal justice system, meanwhile, has absorbed the surge of terrorism cases since 2001 without calamity, and without the international criticism that Guantánamo has attracted for holding prisoners without trial. A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, an examination of how the prisons have handled the challenge of extremist violence reveals some striking facts.” Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of staff to Colin Powell, explains, “It is a fact that our criminal justice system is uniquely qualified to handle complex terrorism cases. Indeed, civilian courts have successfully overseen more than 400 terrorism-related trials, whereas military commissions have handled only six. While the use of military commissions may occasionally be appropriate under the Constitution, the Guantanamo military commissions remain subject to serious constitutional challenges that could result in overturned guilty verdicts. The simple truth is that existing federal courts operate under rules and procedures that provide all the tools necessary to prosecute terrorism cases and they are not subject to the same legal challenges as military commissions.”  [NY Times, 12/10/11. Lawrence Wilkerson, 10/2/11]

National security leaders point to the way forward:  get politics out of the picture and bring Congress, administration, military and law enforcement together. Georgetown Law School Professor David Cole writes, “[A]lthough at one time we could blame President George W. Bush’s unilateral assertions of unchecked executive power for the abuses there, the continuing problem that is Guantánamo today is shared by all three government branches, and ultimately by all Americans. With President Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on New Year’s Eve, the prison is sure to be with us—and its prisoners sure to continue in their legal limbo—for the indefinite future.” Carol Rosenberg explains, “Congress has used its spending oversight authority both to forbid the White House from financing trials of Guantánamo captives on U.S. soil and to block the acquisition of a state prison in Illinois to hold captives currently held in Cuba who would not be put on trial — a sort of Guantánamo North.” [David Cole, 1/4/12. Carol Rosenberg, 12/14/11]

 What We’re Reading

Iran announced it had sentenced a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen to death as a spy, and diplomats said it had switched on a uranium enrichment plant deep inside a mountain.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to discuss how to boost economic growth in the eurozone and to finalize a deal on tougher budget controls in the single currency area.

Yemen’s cabinet approved a draft law which grants President Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity from prosecution as part of a Gulf-brokered transition deal.

The Arab League urged the Syrian government to end its violence against protesters and allow League monitors in the country to work more freely, but stopped short of asking the U.N. to help.

The head of Tunisia’s moderate Islamic party condemned anti-Semitic slogans chanted by a handful of ultraconservative Muslims at the arrival of a top Hamas official.

Exiled former president Pervez Musharraf said he would return to Pakistan later this month to lead his recently formed party in campaigning for a parliamentary election, despite the possibility of his arrest and concern over his security.

Israel’s foreign minister said that some Israeli Arabs should be stripped of their citizenship and placed under Palestinian sovereignty as part of any final peace deal.

China is offering visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak the prospect of launching trade pact negotiations in the coming months, Chinese state-run media said, holding out closer economic ties as a means to narrow political distrust.

The U.S. State Department said that it had ordered a Venezuelan diplomat based in Miami to leave the country but declined to give a reason.

A general strike in Nigeria over the elimination of a fuel subsidy has brought the country to a standstill.

Commentary of the Day

Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey explain how the new defense strategy is a blueprint for a force capable of doing more than one thing at a time and how diplomatic and economic pressure are working to persuade Iran.

John Kerry writes progress in Iraq has to be political and raises questions about Mitt Romney’s suggestions of alternate military solutions.

Philip Taubman argues that trimming America’s nuclear arsenal by two-thirds is not only desirable, it is doable without undercutting American security.

Suzanne Maloney contends that America’s new sanctions regime against Iran places U.S. tactics and objectives at odds, essentially backing into a policy of regime change.


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