Democrats Want Gitmo Prisoners Sent to U.S.
Politico | March 8, 2007
Key House Democrats plan to insist the Pentagon shut down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and are contemplating the relocation of many of the 385 or so remaining terrorist suspects to military brigs along the East Coast -- including Quantico, Va., and Charleston, S.C.
"It sets us back in the war on terrorism to be maintaining Guantanamo," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who's heading an investigation of the facility for the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
"It will enhance our reputation to close it down and to apply our system of justice to all of these detainees," he added.
After two trips to Guantanamo, Moran told The Politico that he's recommending Congress cut funding to the detention center at the end of summer 2008. The men held there should then be released, tried or moved to the United States, he said.
A Democratic official involved in developing the Guantanamo strategy said the Democrats, who control the new Congress, expect Republicans to object to bringing the detainees onto U.S. soil because their attorneys would surely argue they were entitled to myriad new rights.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Democrats are planning hearings in April or May to "build a record" that closing Guantanamo would be beneficial and that it would be legal, as well as logistically feasible, to bring its detainees to the United States. The hearings would start with panels of lawyers, some of whom are convinced the plan is workable and some of whom represent detainees now at Guantanamo.
And to make the measure more palatable to Republicans, Moran said he would suggest the detainees be transferred to military bases that would allow them to be tried in federal courts under the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Republicans certainly could not consider that a mollycoddling, liberal bastion," Moran said. "The 4th Circuit is as conservative as you get. But the whole world would see that the United States stands for the rule of law. And I think the high-value targets would be shown to be people who undoubtedly should be detained and prosecuted.
"But you've got to distinguish among these people," he said. "We have to prove they actually did something that was designed to hurt American citizens."
A senior administration official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was puzzled by the Democrats' frequent discussion of closing Guantanamo.
"While we want to bring these guys to trial as quickly as possible, where do Democrats believe we should keep Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot?" the official asked. "Which American city will they choose to place America's most wanted terrorists?"
The Democratic official said the plan would be to relocate the terrorists to military brigs that have suitable courtrooms. In addition to Quantico and Charleston, many could go to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., or to the Norfolk Naval Station, which has four courtrooms.
Still other possibilities include the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., and Fort Gordon, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, all in Georgia.
In the flush of taking control of the House in January, Democrats had talked about pushing to close Guantanamo immediately, perhaps as part of the emergency wartime funding bill that is now pending. But they had trouble settling on a strategy for that bill and now are considering a shutdown directive in the overall defense appropriations bill for the 2008 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The prison camp at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay has been a constant headache for the Bush administration, which has been accused of holding innocent people there indefinitely. Hunger strikes, suicides and accusations of inappropriate interrogations have plagued the facility, home to what the White House calls some of the world's most dangerous terrorists.
U.S. allies abroad have complained about Guantanamo as well. And the president has said that he would like to close it down but that there is no other place to hold the detainees.
Asked about the furor that could erupt in local communities chosen to receive the detainees, Moran noted that the brigs were secure and that most of the detainees had not "been involved in any combat."
"Many of them have never engaged in any act of violence," Moran said. "Some of them hold beliefs that are anathema to ours, but we have a tradition that we don't punish people for their beliefs but rather for their actions."