Saturday, January 23, 2016
Billy Long: I will fight to keep Guantanamo open
In his last State of the Union Address, President Obama pledged a final push to close the U.S. military prison located at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Ever since the 2008 presidential election, ending this detention facility has been at the center of his platform. During his time in the Oval Office, however, he has found the issue to earn far less support than on the campaign trail. Each time he has tried to close the prison, Members from both sides of the aisle in Congress, including myself, have seen this as a reckless risk to our national security and declined his plans.
As our Navy's oldest overseas base, Guantanamo has been used as a ship fueling naval center since 1903. After the 9/11 attacks, our military woke up to the threat of radical Islamic terrorists in the Middle East and established the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in January of 2002. Since then, it has held some of the world's most cold-blooded terrorists - including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad - who have dedicated their lives to killing Americans and our allies.
Up through 2013, President Obama made substantial efforts to close the prison with plans to move detainees into prisons on U.S. soil. Bipartisan national security concerns in Congress put an end to those efforts - even when Democrats controlled the Senate. Members of Congress refused to sign off on terrorist detainees being brought to their communities.
All the while, the administration kept up efforts to decrease the number of detainees at Guantanamo by releasing them or transferring them into foreign custody. A July, 2015 report from the Director of National Intelligence proves this a reckless endeavor, showing that 30 percent of Guantanamo's released terrorists are either confirmed or suspected of rejoining terrorist groups.
Since I have been in Congress, I have voted to stop taxpayer money from being used to outfit U.S. prisons to hold Guantanamo detainees, or allow them into the U.S. Last November, with a vote of 91-3 in the Senate and 370-58 in the House, Congress passed another poignant rejection of Guantanamo's closure by banning detainees from being brought to the U.S. and tightening restrictions on transferring them to other countries.
Still, in its last year, the administration persists in actions to close Guantanamo, with the aspiration of sending away almost half the prisoners into foreign custody and bringing the rest into American prisons. Already this year, 10 Yemeni prisoners with terrorist connections were released out of U.S. custody. Also, Pentagon officials have floated Fort Leavenworth in Kansas as one site to receive some remaining prisoners. Last December, a coalition of Kansas elected officials sent a letter to the president protesting that moving the terrorists in "could jeopardize our families, schools and downtown businesses, and make Leavenworth a target."
That sentiment rings as true in Southwest Missouri as it does in communities across the nation. We cannot shut down this facility that was built to harbor extremely dangerous people for war crime prosecution and information processing. Doing so would be a refusal to accept that we are in a battle with radical Islamic extremists. As long as Guantanamo has utility in our war on terror, I see no reason to shuffle these prisoners inside our borders and will continue fighting against its closure.