National Security Network

Close Guantanamo: Powell and Petraeus Agree, Conservatives Politicize

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Report 2 March 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Colin Powell Gen. David Petraeus Guantanamo Bay


Tomorrow, the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a closed door hearing on progress toward the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, with Special Envoy for Guantanamo Bay Ambassador Daniel Fried and senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Justice, and the intelligence community. Closing the prison, which has become a recruiting tool for terrorists worldwide, is part of the Administration's broader counterterrorism strategy - an approach for which two of America's most trusted military experts, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the current CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus, have recently reiterated their strong support.

This strategy - vigorously pursuing terrorist networks abroad and at home, increased gathering of actionable intelligence, strengthened partnerships, and utilizing America's criminal justice system as a weapon -has shown significant results in the past year.  Yet conservatives continue to ignore both results on the ground and the views of leading experts such as Powell and Petraeus, instead shifting far to the right of Bush administration positions and attacking bedrock American institutions in pursuit of partisan advantage.

Colin Powell and David Petraeus agree with Obama administration approach. In separate interviews from late February, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell and the current CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus expressed strong support for a key element of the Obama administration's counterterrorism approach: closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.  Petraeus said "I've been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed."  And Powell further explained why it is so important to close the detention facility: "I think Guantanamo has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have at Guantanamo to justify their own-- their own positions... And so I think we ought to remove this incentive that exists in the presence of Guantanamo to encourage people and to give radicals an opportunity to say, you see, this is what America is all about. They're all about torture and detention centers." 

As Petraeus noted, it is not the first time he has expressed support for the closure of the facility.  In 2009, he stated his view that closing Guantanamo "in a responsible manner, I think, sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees."  Powell has expressed similar views.  When asked by Christiane Amanpour in 2008 about "some tangible things that the next administration, the next president can do to change policy or send a signal that will address" the way the U.S. is perceived in the world, Powell had one answer: "Close Guantanamo." [Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/10. General David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10. General David Petraeus, 5/04/09. CNN, 9/20/08]

Closing Guantanamo part of larger Obama administration counterterrorism strategy that has been proving fruitful.  Closing Guantanamo is just one facet of the Obama administration's approach for fighting terrorism.  This strategy is based on blocking terrorism where it starts, building regional partnerships to thwart attacks, bringing terrorists to justice in order to deter would-be perpetrators while reinforcing our values, and refusing to fall into the trap of overreaction that al Qaeda seeks. .

Utilizing America's criminal justice system as a weapon against terrorism.  In February, the Obama administration successfully brought the terrorist behind the largest domestic terror plot, Najibullah Zazi, to justice.  Not only did Zazi confess to his crimes, but he is "share[ing] information about confederates overseas," according to the Washington Post. This case clearly vindicates the Obama administration's approach to combating terrorism by utilizing the power of the rule of law.  As Attorney General Eric Holder said, "Were it not for the combined efforts of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it could have been devastating... This attempted attack on our homeland was real, it was in motion and it would have been deadly."  Holder said that the civilian court system is "an invaluable weapon for disrupting plots and incapacitating terrorists... [it] contains powerful incentives to induce pleas that yield long sentences and gain intelligence."  [Washington Post, 2/23/10. Eric Holder, via the NY Times, 2/22/10]

Going after terrorist networks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The Christian Science Monitor reported at the end of February that, "Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban's leadership in recent days...dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement. In total, seven of the insurgent group's 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials..."  Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who led President Obama's first Afghanistan policy review, told the Christian Science Monitor that "A year ago when this [Obama] administration was completing its first Afghanistan review and we asked the Pakistanis about the Afghan Taliban leadership operating from their country, they flatly denied it. Now not only do they say there are senior Taliban leaders in their country, but they are frankly taking action against them." [CS Monitor, 2/24/10]

Gaining actionable intelligence without using torture.  Despite the rants from right wingers, concrete actionable intelligence was gained from the interrogation of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, without using torture.  As Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress writes, "As we now know, far from being wrong, irresponsible, or dangerous, the path the Obama administration chose for the interrogation of Abdulmutallab is directly responsible for him cooperating with intelligence officials and giving up fresh and actionable intelligence...The intelligence gained from Abdulmutallab has been shared widely throughout the intelligence community - and has already produced results. On January 21, Malaysian counterterrorism authorities arrested 10 suspected terrorists tied to Abdulmutallab." [Ken Gude, 2/3/10]

Building partnerships and working with allies to thwart terrorism.  The Obama administration's revamped effort to work with allies has proven fruitful. Last week the BBC reported on a number of Guantanamo detainees that have been sent to allies abroad, "A Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan were sent to Albania, while a Palestinian was sent to Spain. The Palestinian is the first of five inmates that Spain has agreed to take. Albania has taken eight detainees." In fact, bringing the administration's efforts to close Guantanamo and bringing our interrogation practices in line with international standards increases intelligence sharing with allies.  As the Washington Post reported last year, "CIA officers acknowledged that some foreign intelligence agencies had refused, for example, to share information about the location of terrorism suspects for fear of becoming implicated in any eventual torture of those suspects." [BBC, 2/24/10. Washington Post, 4/24/09]

Combining judicial and intelligence work to extract information - and then pursuing a global manhunt. As the Washington Times reported, "U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating." [Washington Times, 2/15/10]

Conservatives, ignoring Powell and Petraeus, politicize terrorism and national security.  Despite the advice of national security experts such as Generals Powell and Petraeus, conservatives continue to criticize the Obama administration's counterterrorism policy -including the closure of Guantanamo Bay -for political gain.  Last month at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said "thankfully, Gitmo is still open for business." Similarly, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, speaking about the fact that the detention facility remains open, said "thank heavens."

More broadly, conservatives have resorted to attacking America's bedrock legal institutions. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, mocked the FBI interrogation of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, saying that, "He was given a 50 minute interrogation, probably Larry King has interrogated people longer and better than that."  Politico reports today that "Liz Cheney's group Keep America Safe, which has led the resurgent Republican attacks on President Obama's national security policies, is releasing a video this morning that questions the loyalties of Justice Department lawyers who advocated for detained terror suspects during the Bush Administration."

These political attacks are part of a concerted effort. According to Roll Call, "In a messaging memo from the House Republican Conference, Members were encouraged to criticize the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats on a host of national security issues including the decision to read alleged ‘underwear bomber' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights, the plan to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility and the attempt to hold civilian trials for alleged terrorists such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York City rather than in military courts... In materials circulated to his GOP colleagues, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) outlined talking points on these issues. ‘On national security, we continue to oppose closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay without a better solution for detaining terrorists.'" [Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), via the Heritage Foundation, 2/3/10. Mitt Romney, Washington Times, 3/2/10. Roll Call, 2/16/10. Politico, 3/2/10. Mitch McConnell, 2/4/10]

What We're Reading

Six NATO service members died Monday in separate attacks across Afghanistan.

In a sign of increased Arab-Kurd tensions in Iraq, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani called Ninevah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi a "criminal" and said a warrant would be issued for his arrest in connection with an incident this month involving US forces.

The new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran isn't cooperating with U.N. inspectors. Meanwhile, Iran shuttered two opposition publications.

A CIA technical-support official has been arrested on charges of selling more than $60,000 worth of pilfered agency electronic gear.

U.S. defense and counterterrorism officials say al Qaeda's terror network in North Africa is growing more active and attracting recruits.

Troops in Chile are struggling to contain the post-quake chaos, stop looting and distribute aid.

A Spanish judge on Monday accused the government and armed forces of Venezuela of facilitating high-level contacts between Colombian rebels and Basque separatists, helping the groups learn bomb-making techniques and share intelligence.

A planned visit to China by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg this week is the latest sign of a thaw in US-China relations following a series of controversies that had put bilateral relations on ice.

Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, defending himself against charges of Europe's worst genocide since the Holocaust, told judges Monday he was not the barbarian depicted by U.N. prosecutors, but was protecting his people against a fundamentalist Muslim plot.

Dubai's police chief said it will enforce an entry ban on Israeli dual nationals, the first sanction by the emirate following its allegations that Israeli intelligence agents murdered a top Hamas leader there in January.

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