Obama owes explanation on detainees — now
By Rep. Peter T. King
May 15, 2009
Two days after President Obama was sworn into office, he signed an executive order to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In February, 32 days after the president announced his decision, I led a House delegation to visit the facility, which currently houses approximately 240 dangerous terrorists, whom U.S. troops have fought and captured on the battlefield.
Our men and women in uniform who serve at Guantanamo do so with dedication and professionalism. They detain the individuals at Guantanamo in safe, humane, legal and transparent conditions that fully comply with Geneva Convention standards, as certified by the “Walsh Report.” Detainees, in fact, benefit from better medical care than U.S. military personnel receive — one medical professional for every two Guantanamo detainees. Yet on a daily basis, these dangerous detainees subject American personnel to violent attacks, including the throwing of every imaginable bodily fluid.
The American people deserve answers from President Obama about what exactly he intends to do with the detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the admitted mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In order to fulfill a campaign promise, the president decided to close the state-of-the-art detention facility without a shred of a plan. By all accounts, the president’s team is now fervently working to develop a plan.
President Obama owes the American people an answer to the question of whether he will release — set free — any of the detainees from custody. If so, will he release them into the United States? Recent news reports have indicated that he plans to release into the United States 17 dangerous, terrorist camp-trained Chinese detainees, known as Uighurs. Really? Where? Is it true that these individuals, picked up on the battlefield, will get monetary support courtesy of hardworking American taxpayers?
President Obama owes the American people an answer to the question of where exactly those detainees who are not released will be transferred. Will they be locked up in Alexandria, Va., or Montana, or Colorado, or perhaps New York City, where terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans, including 150 of my friends and constituents? I am 100 percent opposed to any of these detainees being moved to New York City, within walking distance of Ground Zero, City Hall, police headquarters and the Brooklyn Bridge. Wherever these terrorists are housed will immediately become a target for a terrorist attack. Relocating them to densely populated New York City, which is already the No. 1 terrorist target, or any community in the United States, would create an unacceptable homeland security risk.
I imagine that no American family wants to see detainees from Guantanamo as new neighbors. Last week, I joined the House Republican leadership and other members of Congress in introducing the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which would protect the American people by prohibiting the president from transferring or releasing any terrorist detainees from Guantanamo into any state without first giving the state’s governor and legislature 60 days notice, and then getting the approval from the governor and legislature. Additionally it requires that the president certify to Congress that any proposed transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees will not endanger any U.S. residents or our national security.
The president owes the American people an answer to the question of how he will guarantee us that any detainees he releases do not return to the battlefield. Will those released by the president kill more Americans? Thus far, according to Department of Defense estimates, more than 60 former Guantanamo detainees have returned to the fight against the United States.
The president owes the American people an answer to the question of which foreign countries will accept Guantanamo detainees. Already, Australian officials have indicated that accepting Guantanamo detainees would be an unacceptable risk to that country’s national security. Will France take more than one? What about Germany? How are the discussions with Yemen and Saudi Arabia going? After all, it seems clear that the president decided to close Guantanamo not to protect the American people, but to satisfy those in foreign countries.
The president owes the American people an answer to the question of how he intends to prosecute any Guantanamo detainees. Will a detainee see his charges dismissed because a U.S. soldier who captured him on the battlefield did not tell him he had “the right to remain silent”? Will open trials in civilian courts expose classified information, putting the lives of U.S. troops at greater risk?
The American people deserve answers to each of these questions, and many more. This poorly thought-out decision to close Guantanamo may well result in disastrous consequences for our national security and for our citizens. We all deserve to know what the president’s plan is, and we deserve to know now.
King is ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.