By Rep. Charlie Dent for the Politico
As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I recently joined Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) on a congressional delegation to the terrorist detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I have a great deal of respect for Harman, who has become one of only a few members of Congress who are subject matter experts on intelligence-related issues.
However, I drew a very different conclusion about whether Gitmo should be closed and its inmates moved to U.S. facilities and tried in civilian courts than Harman did in her Jan. 19 POLITICO op-ed, “U.S. Black Eye Won’t Heal If Guantanamo Stays.”
I believe more than ever that closing the facility is impractical, unnecessary and, if accomplished, would weaken the security of our homeland.
The reasons for closing the terrorist detention facilities are superficial at best — Gitmo is seen by some as a propaganda tool for Al Qaeda. However, while Harman describes it as a “black eye” for America, she appropriately reminds us that Gitmo is no Abu Ghraib and that detainees have many perks not enjoyed in the U.S. prison system (including video games, soccer fields and the like).
And besides, Al Qaeda has a lot of propaganda tools, including American spokesman Adam Gadahn. If Al Qaeda weren’t using Gitmo for propaganda purposes, it would find something else, like America’s religious freedoms or women’s rights.
Our government has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Gitmo’s state-of-the-art infrastructure, and the guards are exceptionally professional. But Gitmo is different from any U.S.-based maximum-security prison in that it is separated from the American public by an ocean and minefields and is protected by the best fighting force known to mankind: the United States military.
Yet the administration proposes to spend an additional $200 million to maintain a prison facility within the United States, moving about 100 of these terror suspects from Cuba to Thomson, Ill., 150 miles west of Chicago. New York City officials estimate it will cost another $200 million annually in security costs to try suspects in the Southern District of New York.
What is the case for moving these suspects to the United States? Is it more secure? No. Is it more humane? No. Will foreign criticism of America and its policies turn to praise? Doubtful. Most important, will Al Qaeda stop trying to kill innocent Americans? Most definitely not.
Many argue that Gitmo’s closure would reflect our ideals as a country of laws. Yet the administration acknowledges that some detainees, even those moved to American soil, will still be subject to military tribunals. Furthermore, based on testimony provided last week by the director of national intelligence, it seems that some officials are now second-guessing the administration’s decision to try Christmas Day attempted bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian courts.
Adm. Dennis Blair testified that the local FBI agents — and not the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group set up last year by President Barack Obama — made the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights. Of course, once Mirandized, Abdulmutallab lawyered up and stopped cooperating with law enforcement officials, on the advice of counsel.
What more could we have learned about terrorist operations from him? This should serve as a lesson if Gitmo detainees move into the civilian court system. Our laws are designed to protect Americans, not our country’s enemies.
Finally, there is the impracticality of closing Gitmo. There are 92 Yemenis still at Gitmo. The president acknowledges that we should not bring them into the United States, and I wholeheartedly agree. Nor can we release them to their home country — Harman agrees. Yemen remains a hotbed of terrorist activity and the Yemeni government — through incompetence, complicity or both — recently released dozens of its prisoners, including Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. The only option remains to keep the suspects at Gitmo and try them there.
A year after the president’s executive order, too many questions about moving Gitmo remain unresolved. The fight against terrorism is not just a public relations battle. At a recent town hall I hosted, a constituent made a pointed observation that our leaders must decide whether we are at war or at peace. If we are at war, then we must do certain things, including maintain a place to keep prisoners of war.
We have a suitable place for them at Gitmo. Don’t move Gitmo to Illinois.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security.
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