I like to believe that, despite
studying Guanta'namo for four years, I still have a sense of humor, but
last Thursday I lost it, after 258 members of the House of Representatives (including 88 members of President Obama's own party) voted for an idiotic, paranoid, and unjust motion
proposed by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ken.), which was designed to "prohibit
the transfer of GITMO prisoners, period" (those were his exact words).
Just 163 Representatives voted against the motion, which, as JURIST described it,
also supports "adding Guanta'namo detainees to the federal 'no fly'
list, and adopting Senate language forbidding the release of photos
showing detainee abuse."
Just in case there was any doubt
about the motion, Rep. Rogers, in his inimitable style, explained that
he was concerned with "protecting the American people from all threats
" including the warped intentions of terrorists and radical
extremists," and proceeded to explain that "this motion strengthens the
House bill's current restrictions on Guanta'namo Bay detainees by
ensuring their names have been put on the No Fly list and by clearly
prohibiting their transfer to the United States -- for whatever reason."
After lambasting the Obama
administration for having "no plan" for how to close Guanta'namo, Rep.
Rogers explained that "this motion prohibits the granting of any
immigration benefit for any reason. Without such a benefit, there is no
legal way to bring these terrorists to American soil and in our
constituents' backyards. And, that means these terrorists cannot be
granted the same constitutional rights as American citizens."
After all, these detainees are enemy combatants, caught on the battlefield. They are not
common criminals and they should not be granted legal standing in our
criminal courts by bringing them onto U.S. soil. From my point of view,
we cannot waver on this issue, nor can we be weak. There is no reason
these terrorists, who pose a serious and documented threat to our
nation, cannot be brought to justice right where they are in Cuba. And,
I certainly think that is where the American people stand on this issue
-- they don't want these terrorists in their hometowns, inciting fellow
prisoners, abusing our legal system, and terrorizing their communities.
This, then, is the reason that I have lost my sense of humor. In May, members of the U.S. Senate voted by 90-6
to approve an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009,
eliminating $80 million from planned legislation intended to fund the
closure of Guanta'namo, and specifically prohibiting the use of any
funding to "transfer, relocate, or incarcerate Guanta'namo Bay detainees
to or within the United States." Defending the amendment,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), speaking for himself and his
spineless colleagues who had bowed to a Republican fear-mongering
campaign, said, "This is neither the time nor the bill to deal with
this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a
comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow
terrorists to be released into the United States."
In June, the House of
Representatives followed up by passing a spending bill turning down the
administration's request for $60 million to close Guanta'namo, which, as
JURIST described it,
"placed limits on the government's ability to transfer detainees to the
U.S. and release detainees to foreign countries." Approved by a vote of 259-157, the bill also prohibited funds from being used to release detainees from Guanta'namo into the United States. In JURIST's words,
The legislation [requires] the
president to submit to Congress a detailed plan documenting the costs
and risks of transferring a detainee to the U.S. for trial or detention
at least two months before the detainee is to be transferred.
Additionally, the president [has] to notify the governor and
legislature of the state to which the detainee is to be transferred at
least 30 days before the transfer and must show that the detainee does
not pose a security risk. The bill also requires that the president
submit a report to Congress before releasing a detainee into his
country of origin or last habitual residence unless that country is the
Last Thursday's vote was for a non-binding motion to instruct conferees to follow Rep. Rogers' motion (see an explanation here)
rather than binding legislation, but, at the very least, it signals
that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are determined to scupper
Barack Obama's pledge to close Guanta'namo by January 22, 2010, for two
The first is the NIMBY card (Not In
My Back Yard), in which lawmakers wail, as Rep. Rogers put it, that
"the American people " don't want these terrorists in their hometowns,
inciting fellow prisoners, abusing our legal system, and terrorizing
their communities." This requires everyone involved to conveniently
forget that America's Supermax prisons are the envy of prison-lovers
the world over, that convicted mass-murdering criminals -- including
some convicted of terrorism -- are safely locked away in these prisons, and that the rest of the world is looking on and laughing at the lawmakers' feeble paranoia.
However, the second reason for my
despair is rather more fundamental. To hear Harry Reid, the Senate
Majority Leader, use the word "terrorists" when referring to the
Guanta'namo prisoners, and to hear this same word repeated ad infinitum
by Rep. Rogers, and by those many members of the Senate and the House
who have persistently voted to prevent the closure of Guanta'namo, is to
step back into those dark months after the 9/11 attacks, when former
Vice President Dick Cheney
and his closest advisors were hatching their plans to hold anyone who
ended up in U.S. custody as an "enemy combatant" -- in other words,
neither as a criminal nor as a prisoner of war, but as whole new
category of non-being without rights.
It involves stepping back to a time when Cheney and his associates were hatching their plans to hand out bounty payments,
averaging $5,000 a head, to the U.S. military's Afghan and Pakistani
allies, who seized at least 86 percent of the men who ended up in
Guanta'namo, the majority of whom were not "caught on the battlefield,"
as Rep. Rogers claims; and when they were hatching their plans to
prevent the military from conducting competent tribunals under Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions.