U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a meeting of university officials in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 1, 2013.
Photo by Danny Johnston/AP

Why Cotton’s Guantanamo harangue matters

After less than one term in Congress, Arkansas Tom Cotton (R) said some pretty ridiculous things en route to the U.S. Senate. At one point, he was even caught brazenly lying, which Cotton responded to by saying he didn’t care. When Norm Ornstein pointed to evidence of extremist Senate candidates, the Arkansas Republican was at the top of the list.
It wasn’t too big a surprise, then, when Cotton launched into a bizarre tirade yesterday about the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which military leaders and the White House want to close, but which Congress refuses to consider.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Thursday rebutted the Obama administration’s argument that the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is a propaganda tool for Islamic militants. […]
[During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the] freshman senator grilled Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy, on how many detainees were in the prison during national security incidents over the last few decades, ranging from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to the 1979 capture of the U.S. Embassy in Iran.
As the freshman senator sees it, terrorist groups recruited terrorists before Guantanamo, ergo, there’s no reason to deny terrorists a recruiting tool now. Zack Beauchamp’s response rings true: “Cotton’s argument – because terrorism existed before Guantanamo Bay, therefore Guantanamo cannot help terrorists recruit new fighters – is a logical nightmare. Clearly it’s possible for terrorists to recruit on more than one thing. Indeed, there’s overwhelming evidence that Guantanamo – as a symbol of the American torture regime – helps al-Qaeda recruit.”
Cotton proceeded to ask and answer his own questions, telling the Pentagon official, “How many detainees at Guantanamo Bay are engaging in terrorism or anti-American incitement? None, because they’re detained.”
It’s hard not to admire the reasoning: think about how safe the world would be if we simply imprisoned everyone we suspected might, at some point, commit an act of violence. If pressed for an explanation, we could simply say, “How many of these detainees are engaging in terrorism or anti-American incitement? None, because they’re detained.”
Cotton concluded, “In my opinion, the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now…. We should be sending more terrorists there. As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they can’t do that, they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.”
Remember, (a) many of these detainees, never having received a trial, are already slated for release; and (b) Republican leaders thought it’d be a good idea to put this guy on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Why should you care about a right-wing lawmaker throwing a tantrum? Because some of Cotton’s colleagues seemed persuaded by his rhetoric, and there’s a big vote coming up.
The Senate Armed Services Committee next week will mark up Republican-backed legislation to effectively bar the Obama administration from transferring more detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during a hearing that the panel would likely take up the bill next Thursday.
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and backed by McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
U.S. military leaders, including the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs and several of his recent predecessors, have urged lawmakers to end this nonsense and allow the prison to close. Congress continues to ignore military leaders’ advice, convinced people like Tom Cotton know better.