Senate Democrats

There is Strong Bipartisan Consensus For Closing Guantanamo

Secretary of Defense Gates testified that closing Guantanamo will empower us in the struggle against terrorists.  In January,Secretary Gates testified that, “With a few short strokes of a pen, the president singlehandedly repaired much of the damage done to our country’s international reputation because of the controversial detainee policies of the previous administration…the United States is in an ideological struggle with these extremists and I think that the announcement of the decision to close Guantanamo has been an important strategic communications victory for the United States…the reaction elsewhere in the world, I think, creates opportunities for us.”[1]

Secretary Gates also testified that the one-year deadline is critical for closing Guantanamo.  In his January testimony Gates also stated that, “I believe that if we did not have a deadline, we could kick that can down the road endlessly.  My experience in making anything work at the Department of Defense is, the only way I get anything done is by putting a deadline on it and making people understand that the deadline is meaningful.  And I think the only way we’ll come to grips with some of the tough decisions that have to be made with respect to Guantanamo is by having a deadline that then forces the rest of us to turn to and figure out solutions to some of these problems.”[2]

Denis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence testified that closing Guantanamo is critical for our national security.  In January Denis Blair told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that “I agree with the President that the detention center at Guantanamo has become a damaging symbol to the world and that it must be closed.  It is a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security, so closing it is important for our national security.”[3]

Alberto Mora testified that there is a direct link between Guantanamo and U.S. combat deaths.  Last June, former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified that “Serving U.S. flag-rank officers… maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”[4]

Matthew Alexander identified Guantanamo as a central terrorist recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In a recent op-ed, writing under a pseudonym, the Air Force Major and former interrogator assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq wrote that “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.  Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al Qaeda in Iraq.”[5]

General Petraeus stated that the Obama Administration’s detainee policies protect our soldiers in the field.  Appearing on CNN in March, General Petraeus rejected former Vice President Cheney’s claims on the Obama Administration’s national security policies, stating, “I think that, in fact, there is a good debate going on about the importance of values in all that we do.  I think that, if one violates the values that we hold so dear, that we…jeopardize [our soldiers].[6]

Bipartisan Armed Services Committee report concluded that Guantanamo has served as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda terrorists and created new enemies.  In December, the Committee released the conclusions of its bipartisan Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, which found that “Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them.  They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam.  Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies.”[7]

Five former U.S. Secretaries of State have called for closing Guantanamo.  Last year, in a report offering “bipartisan advice to the next administration,” Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell called on the next president to move swiftly to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.[8]  In 2007, Colin Powell stated that “Guantanamo has become a major, major problem for America’s perception, as it’s seen, the way the world perceives America.  And if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo, not tomorrow, but this afternoon.”[9]

Richard Clarke condemned Republican distortions and fear tactics surrounding Guantanamo and interrogation policies.  Reacting to recent Republican attacks on plans to close Guantanamo as well as the release of a GOP video which uses graphic imagery from September 11, former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council Clarke stated that, “This video and the recent Republican attacks on Guantanamo are more desperate attempts from a demoralized party to politicize national security and the safety of the American people.  But what is more disturbing is their brazen use of imagery and the memory of 9/11 to score political points.  Thousands of Americans tragically died that day, and for the GOP to think it can win elections by denigrating their memory is disgraceful.  The difference between these Republican videos and the very terrorist propaganda that seeks to damage our society is negligible.  Each attempt to stoke the embers of fear in order to disrupt American life.  Just as al Qaeda videos should be viewed as misguided rants from a small group of marginalized radicals, so too should these Republican videos be equally dismissed.  As opposed to what the GOP thinks, the American people are not that naïve.”[10]

The Bush Administration acknowledged that Guantanamo was a major national security liability, but failed to come up with a plan to address it. 

·         Former President Bush:  As early as May 2006, [11] President Bush publicly stated his desire to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.  He reiterated that desire on several other occasions, including June 2006[12] and August 2007.[13]  Bush recognized the national security implications of keeping the prison open: “No question, Guantanamo sends, you know, a signal to some of our friends – provides an excuse, for example, to say, ‘The United States is not upholding the values that they’re trying (to) encourage other countries to adhere to.'”[14]

·         Secretary of Defense Gates:  According to media reports, “In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantanamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials.  He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.”[15]

On the campaign trail, Senator McCain pledged to close Guantanamo. “I would immediately close Guantanamo Bay, move all the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth (Kansas) and truly expedite the judicial proceedings in their cases.”[16]

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain released a joint statement supporting the closure of Guantanamo.  The statement, released in January, reads, “We support President Obama’s decision to close the prison at Guantanamo, reaffirm America’s adherence to the Geneva Conventions, and begin a process that will, we hope, lead to the resolution of all cases of Guantanamo detainees…”[17]

Senator Graham asserted that we can close Guantanamo while safeguarding our national security.  Appearing on CNN yesterday, Senator Graham stated, “So I do believe we can close Guantanamo Bay.  We can find a place to house these people within the United States, protect our nation, and move forward, and keep people off the battlefield who deserve to be kept off the battlefield, based on evidence, not whims of the executive branch.”[18]



[1] Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 1/27/09.

[2] Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 1/27/09.

[3] Dennis Blair, Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/22/09.

[4] Alberto Mora, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, 6/17/08.

[5] Washington Post, 11/30/08.

[6] CNN State of the Union, 3/29/09                                                                                     

[7] Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/08.

[8] The Atlanta Journal Constitution, 3/27/08.

[9] Colin Powell, Meet the Press, 12/10/07, as reported in Think Progress, 12/10/07.

[10] Richard Clarke statement, 5/8/09.

[11] CBS/AP, 5/8/06.

[12] BBC News, 6/21/06.

[13] New York Times, 10/20/08.

[14] The Times (UK), 6/14/06.

[15] Reuters, 3/23/07.

[16] UPI.com, 3/19/07.

[17] Joint Statement from U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain on Guantanamo Executive Order, 1/22/09

[18] Senator Graham, CNN, 5/13.09.

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