Transcript: Rep. Jim Moran on Guantanamo’s 10th anniversary

Transcript of remarks by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), member of the House Appropriations Committee, at the New America Foundation’s panel on “Guantanamo Forever?” held on January 10, 2012: 

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), member of the House Appropriations Committee. SOURCE:

“We have a terrific panel. I don’t want to take too long but there’s so much to be said.

“Let me stipulate my position. First, Guantanamo should be closed as a detention facility.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that non-citizens have the right to habeas corpus, which is being denied to them currently. And so you can make a strong case that the existence of Guantanamo is unconstitutional.

“I feel quite strongly that it is undermining our national security and that it’s an ongoing compromise of our foreign policy and the ideals that define the United States of America.

“And as long as Guantanamo continues to exist, it undermines our credibility throughout the world. And I think most people would agree that it is America’s idealism that has been its strongest asset in dealing with the rest of the world and, in fact, has primarily contributed to its economic, military, and political success in doing so.

“So Guantanamo is a real problem from a foreign policy, from a national security, and from a legal standpoint.

“And in fact, our current president ran on a position that he would close it. And so from that you would have to believe that, given the facts, the majority of the people would agree with the president’s position.

“But it is open. And as a result of legislation that was just passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president, I’m afraid that it will stay open indefinitely without a very substantial push-back from the American people, which means that it is a subject that should be addressed in this presidential election year. And obviously every member of the House is up and approximately a third of the United States Senate and so it should be addressed. It’s an important issue.

“Now when it began, there were 20 captives back in January 2002. That’s why this conference is being held today. It’s the 10th year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.

“There have been about 800 people held at, well, call it Gitmo – it’s a little easier to remember. But there have been 800 people held at Gitmo. About 772 were originally brought there.

“More recently, some people who were taken out of what were called ‘black prisons’ in other parts of the world who were the worst of the worst, and there’s some believe that to be the case, personified by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. They have been put there at Guantanamo as well. But they are not typical of the people being held at Guantanamo. They should, as far as I’m concerned, be dealt with in the legal system.

“But the data that we have – and we challenge people to refute it – but that initially when 772 people were brought there in the early years, only 5% were captured by United States forces. 86% were were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and then turned over to U.S. custody. This was at a time when the United States offered large bounties for the capture of suspected enemies. There’s very little screening when these people were turned over.

“Now we know a lot of the actions that the Pakistan military have taken have not been consistent with America’s policy or its national security. And yet, these are the people that we accepted these prisoners from and we accepted their word that they were terrorists.

“But the majority of the detainees have not been determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies. More than half. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as Al Qaeda fighters. 30% were captured because they were members of a – and I’m using quotes here – ‘potentially hostile organization.’ Almost two-thirds, 60%, were associated with such an organization.

“‘Associated with’ is a very broad term as you can imagine. We have some of the top people in the government and certainly in the Washington establishment working with MEK, for example, which has been labeled a terrorist organization. I only throw that out because these identifications are just so loose. They were insufficient justifications to detain people for an entire decade in some cases.

“Now the majority of the 175 that are still there have been cleared for release. I can give you the actual numbers: 171. 36 are subject to active criminal investigation or prosecution. 48 are considered to be remained in preventive detention without criminal trial. And the remaining detainees may be transferred either immediately or eventually to a foreign country.

“Now this is the result of the conclusions of the Guantanamo Task Force. This is what its final report said just about a year ago now.

“Now it should also be said that civilian courts have prosecuted successfully more than 400 terrorists. And yet I’m going to read you legislation which was just passed by the Congress of the United States and signed into law with the caveat by the president.

“But I want to make one more point before I go to that legislation. Not only is this the least justifiable facility controlled by the United States for national security purposes, but it is by far the most expensive prison on the planet. There are 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians that maintain a compound that contains 171 captives. You can do the math. That’s over $800,000 per year per detainee. And of the 171, only 6 are currently facing Pentagon tribunals that may be may start a year from now after pre-trial hearing and discovery.

“So here we are with all of this concern about reckless, excessive spending. Some of the people who have raised the greatest concern are maintaining a facility where the majority of people have been cleared for release but are nevertheless being held under what the Supreme Court has suggested as unconstitutional detention without the right of habeas corpus. I know Tom Wilner will address that in a few moments. And yet, the new numbers this year will bring it closer to $1 million per year per detainee. How can you justify it?

“Now let me tell you about the legislation that is most relevant and the cause for the greatest discouragement. The National Defense Authorization Act, which as I said was just signed, for the first time in the United State’s history explicitly allows the president to indefinitely detain, without charge, any suspected terrorist who was captured even within the United States. This can include U.S. citizens and U.S. persons. And with regard to U.S. citizens the provision that was signed into law does not expressly exclude their detention without charge or trial. That’s Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011.

“The current authority of the president, which is what people say would not be affected, unfortunately is very unclear.

“Now those who argued on the floor of the House and the Senate that civil liberties are protected in the United States, I don’t think, fully considered the implications – and many of you are taking notes so I’ll be specific – of subsection E of 1021, because it says that the law should not be construed to affect existing law or authority relating to United States citizens. But the reality is that current law on the scope of the president’s authority to indefinitely detain is unsettled. It’s not clear. So when you say it doesn’t affect it or doesn’t affect law that has not been clarified.

“And in fact the U.S. government in the [Jose] Padilla case as well as the [Ali Saleh Kahlah] al-Marri case, as recent as 2009, claimed that the president had the authority to detain a suspected terrorist captured within the United States indefinitely without charge or trial.

“So the claim of executive detention authority of the people captured within the United States has not been tested. The state of the law at present is unclear. That’s very important to say, because people need to understand that not only is Guantanamo a foreign policy embarrassment, but it has profoundly undermined the constitutional protections of all United States citizens.

“Now the subsequent section – section 1022 – would force the military to indefinitely detain without charge or trial anyone who’s a member of Al Qaeda, associated forces, or anyone suspected of planning or attempting a terrorist attack. The key word is suspected. The language – that language – 1022 doesn’t prohibit the detention of United States citizens. FBI Director [Robert] Mueller says that he fears that this is going to severely compromise the ability of the FBI and our civil authorities from being able to conduct their responsibilities.

“Now this may seem somewhat legalistic, but the legalism we’re talking about is a basic constitutional protection.

“So in the interest [in] maintaining Guantanamo, justifying political positions that members of Congress and the Senate have taken that we will not allow any terrorists from Guantanamo into the United States, we have seriously eroded something that is intrinsic to the constitution of the United States.

“Now let me just wrap this up with something I know a little more about than the constitution – although it should be clear to all of us who have to vote on measures that should be consistent with the constitution – and that is the politics of this country.

“The reason why we have this situation is not the fault of the president of the United States. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge and experience. The problem is from the Congress of the United States and the fact that they have operated within an echo chamber of conservative media that has hammered away at what is really not a clear and true statement that the people at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst. Many of them should not have been picked up; most of them should not have been detained. And the vast majority of them are not immediate threats to the security of the United States. Just look at the numbers. Of nearly 800, 600 have already been released. But we held them in detention without giving them the ability to defend themselves or even to know what they were accused of.

“In the early years, many were abused, but I would suggest that being held under force without being able to contact your family or to defend yourself is abusive.

“Now the majority of the Congress today is not prepared to close Guantanamo. They are prepared to provide whatever money is necessary to keep it open.

“The majority are not prepared to allow the detainees at Guantanamo – even the worst of the worst, i.e. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others that we know have been involved in clear and direct threats and actions against the United States – they are not prepared to allow them to be tried in our civil justice system.

“The problem is while 400 terrorists have been prosecuted in our civil justice system, only 6 have been successfully prosecuted by the military system of justice because of the lack of evidence.

“And so I think this Guantanamo is going to remain open for the indefinite period of time until the majority of the American people say, ‘No. We now understand what’s going on. We now understand that the majority are eligible for release. We understand that despite the language that says that basically prohibits them from being transferred to other countries. We understand they should be transferred to their country of origin. And we understand that the rule of law in the United States should apply to Guantanamo as well.'”



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