What we saw, and Obama should see, at Gitmo
Guantanamo Bay was never meant to be an Ellis Island. However, one of the first executive orders issued by President Obama was to close this facility, likely bringing some of these prisoners to United States soil.
Unfortunately, Mr. Obama issued this order before he actually had a plan in place to deal with some of the world’s most dangerous individuals. Two weeks ago, we traveled with five members of Congress on a bipartisan congressional delegation trip to Guantanamo Bay to see this facility up-close in order to determine its suitability for housing these terrorists. In reality, each of us had our own set of beliefs and preconceived notions about Guantanamo Bay. However, what we actually saw exceeded our expectations and challenged our preconceptions.
For instance, despite allegations and perceptions, enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding or sleep deprivation have never occurred at Guantanamo. The most severe punishment detainees receive is to lose two hours of their man- dated four hours of recreational time outside.
Additionally, the camps where the detainees live are modern, yet controlled. They have a library, air conditioning, cable television, video games, world newspapers, soccer fields and exercise facilities.
Beyond the amenities of the facility, all the detainees have 24-hour access to medical care. There is one doctor to every two detainees. That is better access to health care than many of us have in America. Moreover, the detainees obtain very nutritious meals, with up to 6,000 calories per day if they chose to consume all that is offered.
There is no disputing that Guantanamo has become controversial. Reasonable people can disagree on the notion of closing the facility. However, it is essential that there is a mapped out and workable alternative in its place in order to keep our country safe from future terrorist attacks.
By some measures, the prisoners kept at Guantanamo Bay constitute the largest al Qaeda cell in the world with an internal operating structure. Just this month, a prisoner in Gitmo committed suicide after receiving an order from a superior al Qaeda member who is also a prisoner.
Why would we close a modern, functioning facility such as this when the risk of releasing these criminals could ultimately mean putting our country in great danger?
Ali al-Shihri is not a household name in the United States, but he is someone we should all know about. Al-Shihri was a detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility — he was released, “rehabilitated” and then returned to al Qaeda to engage in acts of terror.
In a news story by the New York Times, it was reported in a Pentagon document that about 1 in 7 of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.
Many other worldwide leaders are protesting the American government’s decision to close the facility. Others, like the European Union, have stated they may consider taking some of the detainees from Guantanamo, but with their policy of open travel within the EU they ultimately defer to the individual countries to decide.
Since the announcement by the EU, the State Department has been doing some damage control after it apparently forgot to tell the United Kingdom it had struck a deal to relocate some Chinese Muslim detainees to Bermuda. There seems to be a strong administration effort to unload Guantanamo inmates by any means necessary, even if it means paying off countries. We do not see this as sound alternative policy.
Respected columnist Charles Krauthammer even stated that it’s a “win-win” for al Qaeda. “If al Qaeda defeats the United States, you rule the world out of Mecca. If you lose, you end up on a tropical island, Bermuda shorts, holding a daiquiri in your hand.”
The fact still remains, if you bring the detainees into this country and put them on trial, then presumably they will be given the protections of the Bill of Rights afforded to you and me.
We believe these detainees did not commit a simple crime — these are individuals who committed acts of war. Giving them the same rights as the men and women protecting our country is ludicrous. Detainees like Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, and Abu Zubaydah, who personally trained some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, are dangerous, and we should not rush to close this facility with no plan in place.
Even the most liberal Democrats agree with this basic premise. House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, refused to include funding to close Guantanamo, saying, “When they have a plan, they’re welcome to come back and talk to us.”
Again, we ask that Mr. Obama take time out of his busy schedule to visit Guantanamo and develop a plan before closing it. We think this is a sensible request that every American would ask of him.
Rep. Aaron Schock is an Illinois Republican. Rep. Phil Roe is a Tennessee Republican.