National Security Network

Closing Guantanamo Remains a National Security Priority

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Report 30 March 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Guantanamo Bay


Closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is important to the national security of the United States.  The Guantanamo Bay facility remains a dangerous recruitment tool for terrorists, obstructs our country's ability to obtain international cooperation on counterterrorism, and violates our country's best moral and legal traditions - our most valuable weapons against terrorism.  In addition, closing the facility is a crucial component of America's overall counterterrorism approach.  Despite a  recent poll by CNN finding a drop in public support for closing the facility, which comes amidst politicization by extreme conservatives against the Obama administration's attempts to shut the facility down, both military leaders and national security experts from across the political spectrum agree that it is still crucial for Guantanamo Bay to be closed.  Unfortunately, the politicized attacks that have been made against closing the facility have hampered the Administration's efforts, and if successful, will have undermined a core tenet of the Administration's broader counterterrorism efforts.  Yet despite the extreme conservative attempts to gain political ground by opposing the President's moves to protect America, closing Guantanamo Bay, as Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) has said, is the way to do "counterterrorism right."

For the sake of American national security, the Obama administration must close Guantanamo.  The benefits of closing the facility would be felt across a broad range of U.S. counterterrorism efforts that are essential to keeping America safe.

Closing Guantanamo will undercut the terrorist movements that use the facility to rally recruits to their extremist cause.  Matthew Alexander - the pseudonym of the Air Force Major and interrogator who, without using torture, extracted the information that led to finding the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - says that keeping the prison open is a powerful recruiting tool for al Qaeda, and creates difficulties for interrogators trying to persuade people to provide information about future terrorist attacks. He told the New York Times that, "The longer it stays open the more cost it will have in U.S. lives."  Jon Soltz, the director of, along with 2,000 other combat veterans, made a similar point about terrorist recruitment in a letter which stated that "Every day that the facility at Guantanamo Bay remains open and detainees are held there without trial is another day that terror networks have an effective recruiting poster." [New York Times, 1/21/10]

Closing Guantanamo will remove a key obstacle to greater international cooperation on counterterrorism.  International cooperation helps to ensure that terrorists seeking to harm Americans never reach our border.  A report released in January by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) recommended that "U.S. government cooperation with foreign partners must be redoubled across the counterterrorism spectrum: Information-sharing, counterterrorism and law enforcement training, and border control are all areas where allies will benefit from cooperation."  But as Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Lehner, the man responsible for setting up the Guantanamo facility, said to the Los Angeles Times, the facility caused the U.S. to lose the moral high ground in the eyes of the world.  "For those who think our standing in the international community is important, we need to stand for American values. You have to walk the walk, talk the talk." [SFRC, 1/20/10. Brig. Gen. Michael Lehner, 9/25/09]

Closing Guantanamo is crucial for returning to the best traditions of American justice, traditions which have been consistently shown to be the best instruments for countering those who would do us harm.  In January, the President's Terrorism and Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan affirmed that our identity as a nation of laws is inseparable from the fight against terrorists, when he said "we need to make sure that we are a country of laws and we maintain that standard so that we are able to treat these individuals the way they should be treated, prosecute them if we have the information available to us, transfer them back, but make sure that, if they're transferred back, the countries that receive them take the appropriate steps to safeguard us and them." As former Oklahoma Congressman and member of the GOP leadership Mickey Edwards wrote bluntly for the Atlantic, "It's not because we love terrorists, it's because we hate them and we are going to subject them to the thing they most fear - justice, democracy, the rules of a free society." [John Brennan, 1/03/10. Former Congressman Mickey Edwards, 1/05/10]

There is a strong bipartisan consensus among senior national security and military leaders that Guantanamo must be closed.  Prominent national security leaders from across the political spectrum agree that closing Guantanamo is vital to the security of the U.S. and is a critical facet of our larger counterterrorism strategy. 

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell: "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." [Colin Powell, via Face the Nation, 2/21/10]

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): "Continuing Guantanamo, unfortunately, makes our troops less safe.  The bottom line as I see it is Guantanamo should close in an orderly way... The fact is that closing Guantanamo, that announcement by the President, as well as abandoning torture techniques and so-called enhanced interrogation, finally said to the rest of the world that it's a new day.  Join us in a new approach to keeping this world and America safe.  I think it was a break from the past we desperately needed." [Sen. Dick Durbin, via MSNBC, 5/24/09]

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA): "I think if we really want to do counterterrorism right, we have to eliminate one of Al Qaeda's top recruiting tools, that's Guantanamo Bay." [Rep. Jane Harman, via CNN, 1/4/10]

CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus: In February, Petraeus said "I've been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed."  In 2009, Petraeus stated 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." [General David Petraeus, via Meet the Press, 2/21/10. General David Petraeus, 5/4/09]

Alberto Mora, Department of Navy General Counsel in the Bush administration, made a similar point when he testified before Congress, explaining that the stain on America's image caused by Guantanamo Bay served as an extremist recruiting tool that led directly to American deaths: "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." [Alberto Mora, 6/17/08]

Extreme conservatives seek political gains by politicizing national security and obstructing the President's efforts to keep America safe.  The conservative leadership in Congress has explicit plans for obstructing the closure of Guantanamo Bay, primarily because they see it as politically lucrative. Roll Call reports that, "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. And we have to make a distinction between an American teenager who breaks into a sandwich shop and a foreign terrorist who wants to blow up an airplane. Terrorists should be tried by military commissions,' Alexander wrote in the recess packet."

Similarly, Liz Cheney of the ultraconservative Keep America Safe organization has said that "If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility... He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant. He should inform Attorney General Holder that he will no longer allow the Justice Department to treat terrorism as a crime instead of an act of war..."  This is the same organization that released a video suggesting that attorneys who represented Guantanamo Bay detainees are complicit in terrorism, labeling the attorneys as the "al Qaeda 7."  That politicized move was so outlandish that it was even denounced as "shameful" by prominent conservative attorneys and former Justice Department officials. 

Richard Clarke, the chief counterterrorism advisor to Presidents Clinton and Bush, also pointed out that conservative politicization of the Obama administration's handling of terrorism has shown their hand, when he wrote that "It has been hard to escape the conclusion that the goal of these critics is to discredit the President's handling of terrorism for political advantage, whether or not the Administration is actually doing a good job." [Roll Call, 2/16/10. Liz Cheney via Keep America Safe, 1/6/10. NSN, 3/8/10. Richard Clarke, NY Daily News, 2/9/10]

What We're Reading

The brazen suicide bombings in the center of Moscow have confronted Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin with a grave challenge to his record of curbing terrorism, and raised the possibility that he would respond as he had in the past, by significantly tightening control over the government.

As NATO troops prepare to start their offensive in Kandahar, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is increasingly flouting U.S. assistance and railing against U.S. motives in the region.

A Pakistani court on Monday rejected a petition by disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan challenging restrictions on his movements, a government lawyer said.

An Iraqi commission that removes government workers who are loyalists to the outlawed Ba'ath Party announced that it would contest the results of the March 7 parliamentary elections.

Iran's nuclear program is of "critical concern" and will top the agenda when foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations meet on Monday to discuss global security, Canada's foreign minister said.

President Obama has shifted his foreign policy outreach from populations to leaders.

Hundreds of enraged protesters marched through the streets of Mogadishu to protest against the Shabab, a militant Islamist insurgent group, in one of the largest demonstrations in recent years.

Mexican army soldiers have detained an alleged leader of a violent cross-border drug gang who authorities suspect is involved in the slayings this month of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.

China executed more people last year than the rest of the world combined, according to a report by Amnesty International, as the rights group called on Beijing to divulge how many executions it carries out.

India and the United States announced the successful conclusion of negotiations granting rights to India to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, a new step toward opening nuclear commerce between the two countries, potentially worth billions of dollars.

Commentary of the Day

Fred Kaplan says the START treaty may not be big news, but it's good news.

Richard Cohen writes that Google's decision to leave China shows that history is not over, liberal democracies have not triumphed, and the Great Firewall is what's standing in the way.

Cesar Chelala argues that dependence on drone warfare is "trivializing" the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


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