Transcript: Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s response to Obama’s speech on closing Guantanamo – May 23, 2013
Partial transcript of press briefing remarks by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in response to President Barack Obama’s speech on closing the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility on May 23, 2013:
…I would just add certainly my view on Guantanamo. It’s very similar to Sen. Chambliss’s and it’s been clear.
I would just point out that if you look at what we did in the Defense Authorization in 2013, I brought an amendment on the Senate floor that passed 54-41 that prohibited transfer from Guantanamo on a permanent basis – from Guantanamo to the United States, which was then changed in conference to a year and so it’s been a consistent policy of this body.
And I think in part – certainly I share what Sen. Chambliss said in terms of the use of Guantanamo where we capture foreign terrorists that need to be interrogated to make sure we get maximum intelligence, that is key. That still remains a real important – very important key issue for us.
But also there is no plan from this President on an alternative. And so that is where things stand in Congress and I think they’re likely to stand there with an absence of a cohesive plan that makes sense and protects Americans.
I want to point out with regard to Yemen the President has spent in his speech a lot of time on Yemen, saying that he was going to lift the transfer. And as Sen. Chambliss said what’s changed in Yemen?
In fact, let’s look right here. Here we have – one of the issues we have had with return and recidivism is – Yemen had a prison break. So if we’re thinking that any of these individuals that we are going to transfer from Guantanamo that still need to be detained or are going to be held in the safety of a prison in Yemen, this incident in 2011 where members of Al Qaeda basically had a prison break in Yemen just demonstrates the issues we have in Yemen.
And to quote the President’s own speech on Yemen, he very clearly said that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the most active in plotting against our homeland. That’s where obviously we have already had significant activity. And you think about it, where did we get Warsame? He was apprehended off the coast in Yemen. Yemen has tenuous reach in the territory.
And most telling, what do we tell Americans that travel to Yemen? If you could put slide two up, Brad. Here’s what we tell Americans about Yemen. [Slide of travel advisory shown]
And so the question is this – nothing has changed and the issue in terms of transferring those out of Guantanamo is will they re-engage? Will we have add to the 28% re-engagement rate to continue to commit terrorist attacks against our country?
And Yemen, frankly, what we tell our citizens in terms of the threat to Al Qaeda remains very significant and has not diminished since the administration made the decision not to transfer prisoners to Yemen.
So I think this issue of transferring to Yemen is very troubling given the history we have with Yemen and the terrorist activity there.
And also I would add the President said in his speech that he wants Congress to overturn restricts we have on transferring people – detainees from Guantanamo to other countries.
We put together a waiver process. In the Defense Authorization, there’s a waiver process in there. The administration can transfer people from Guantanamo. But if you look in summary of what that waiver process constitutes, they have to be able to certify to Congress that they can mitigate the risks that people like the terrorists that are being released from Guantanamo are not going to re-engage and that if they’re going to be detained that the place that they’re going to be detained in is secure, where they can’t escape from, and it has to be in the national security interest in the United States of America.
So I would submit in response to the President’s speech, we’ve given him a standard and if they can’t certify with respect to each individual at Guantanamo that they have mitigate the risk of re-engagement so they aren’t attacking us or our allies again and they have made sure that it’s in the national security interest of the United States of America, they could make decisions to transfer under the process we’ve created for them. And it seems to me those are fair considerations. So I don’t think we need to repeal a process we’ve given them. If they want to exercise it, justify to Congress why these individuals will not present a national security risk if we transfer them.
And finally, I was troubled to hear him say that he wants to repeal the AUMF. We remain at war with terrorists. We need only look at incidents – as the President said himself – from Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa and, of course, what happened in Benghazi to know that now is not the time where we can consider repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.):
Let me just add – Defense Authorization – we have an ability, which I’ve brought in the past, to bring amendments that can address detainees and interrogation issues. And certainly, if this is the course the administration plans to take, particularly with some of the concerns I’ve heard, I’d like to know why they can’t justify under the waiver process that we’ve created for them the transfer of these individuals because that tells me that they can’t tell me it’s in the national security interest of the United States. If we need to bring amendments on issues like Guantanamo, I have done in the past and I’ll do it again.
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