White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters a few weeks ago that officials are “in the final stages of drafting a plan” to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for good. As part of the process, military personnel are ”assessing sites on U.S. soil that might serve as facilities for Guantanamo Bay detainees.”
And it’s against this backdrop that some congressional Republicans are starting to panic. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) co-authored a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday, laying out the GOP’s best case. The choice of lawmakers isn’t coincidental – Roberts’ home state is home to Fort Leavenworth, which houses the American military’s only domestic maximum-security prison, while Charleston is home to an impressive Naval Brig.
So, what do the far-right lawmakers have for us?
[T]hroughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has prioritized personal legacy over the safety and security of the nation – and he is still pursuing an effort to move the terrorists at Guantanamo into our backyards.
That’s an unusually scurrilous charge for sitting senators to make against a war-time Commander in Chief, and I’m a little surprised it didn’t cause more of a stir yesterday. Roberts and Scott actually believe, and put in print, that the president of the United States prioritizes personal vanity over America’s national security.
Even for congressional Republicans, this is bonkers. But just as importantly, it’s also demonstrably wrong. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. So does Adm. Mike Mullen, Dempsey’s predecessor; former Secretary of State Colin Powell, himself a former Joint Chiefs chairman; former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was originally appointed by the Bush/Cheney administration; and even retired Gen. David Petraeus. Are we to believe they’re all more interested in President Obama’s legacy than “the safety and security of the nation,” or are Roberts and Scott just spewing brazen nonsense?
Indeed, closing the Guantanamo prison was part of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 platform. Is he indifferent to America’s security needs, too?
The entire op-ed is a reminder that Republicans have had seven years to come up with good arguments for this debate, and they still can’t come up with anything.
Roberts and Scott said locking up suspected terrorists in American prisons “puts the well-being of states in danger,” which might make sense if American prisons didn’t already have plenty of convicted terrorists behind bars on U.S. soil.
The op-ed added, “Of serious concern is that there is no way to control who the terrorists would attract to our communities.” If prisons with terrorists are a magnet for other terrorists, perhaps the GOP senators should explain why Americans prisons that already house terrorists are fine.
The piece went on to argue, “Fort Leavenworth is on the Missouri River, adjacent to a public railroad, about 16 miles from Kansas City International Airport, in the middle of communities Leavenworth and Lansing, surrounded by schools and homes.”
In grown-up land, Fort Leavenworth is also home to a maximum-security prison, home to some very dangerous characters. At the facility, “the toughest prisoners are allowed outside their cells only one hour a day when they are moved with their legs shackled and accompanied by three guards.”
How many people have ever escaped the prison at Leavenworth? Zero. It’s never happened.
I’m willing to consider the idea that there are credible, sensible reasons to ignore America’s military leaders and keep the Guantanamo prison open indefinitely. But after years of debate, the fact that Republicans can’t think of one tells us quite a bit about the merits of their argument.