Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham’s response to Obama’s speech on closing Guantanamo – May 23, 2013
Partial transcript of press briefing remarks by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in response to President Barack Obama’s speech on closing the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility on May 23, 2013:
On detention policy, I would argue that the administration’s detention policy has quite frankly been a failure.
How many people have we captured and interrogated under the law of war? Every time we capture a terrorist, if we don’t kill them – there’s just been a handful – we bring them into the civilian court system and read them their rights. That’s got to stop.
Now, about Guantanamo Bay. It’s not about the location of the jail. I don’t mind if we try to find a place to move it into the United States.
What I want is a legal system consistent with being at war.
And the reason we haven’t closed Guantanamo Bay is we don’t have a plan to close it. You need a plan.
You need a plan that will reassure the American public that we’re not talking about dealing with people who rob the liquor store but terrorists and that we’re going to have a legal system that will allow some to be tried in military court, some to be tried in federal civilian court where appropriate, some to be released when appropriate, and, yes, some to be held under the law of war because if we let them back out into the system they will kill us.
28% recidivism rate. Law of war detention only makes sense if you’re at war.
Under domestic criminal law, you cannot hold anyone indefinitely under criminal law – nor should you be allowed to. But when you’re at war and you capture a prisoner, you can hold that prisoner as long as they’re a threat.
The problem with this war – it’ll be a war without end. So we’ve got to find some long-term detention review policies to deal with the law of war captures so they’d get more due process.
But I will not sit on the sidelines and embrace the option “You need to try them or let them go” because that’s a false choice and a dangerous choice.
About the overarching theme that you can’t kill your way into safety and win the war through killing, count me in for that concept.
But Mr. President, what you say and what you do are totally disconnected. You talk about supporting democracies in countries in transition that are trying to reject radical Islam but your actions speak louder than your words.
Iraq was a country that went through hell, was inside the 10-yard line, the surge did work, is falling apart because the President chose not to leave any American soldiers behind when 10,000 or 12,000 would have made a difference.
So, Mr. President, I agree with the concept that we have to stand by those in the region and give them capacity where they have the will because we can’t kill our way to safety. But when you’re given the choices, you made a poor choice in Iraq and you’ve undercut our commanders four times in Afghanistan.
What I hope to find is that the President’s words matches the speech. There are parts of the speech that I could have given. You cannot kill your way to victory. You have to help those who’d be willing to live in peace with you. But our track record in Syria, Iraq, in Afghanistan is very disturbing.
So I would just end with this thought about drones.
I’ve stood by this President because it’s a technology that makes sense. There are parts of this world that are ungoverned and we don’t have any troops and a drone is the best way to protect us and allies against radical Islamic terrorists. I would like it to be more transparent.
And if you want to send it over to DOD, I won’t object if you can prove to me we’re still going to use the technology to make us safe.
I believe we’re in a war that’s not winding down. We’re in a war that’s morphing.
And thus, the theme of the speech was that this war is winding down – “I have relentlessly pursued the Al Qaeda leadership. There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.”
The justification for closing Gitmo is that we’ve destroyed the Al Qaeda leadership and been relentless in our pursuit of terrorists? That is not a good justification because that is not true.
The enemy is morphing. It is spreading. There are more theaters of conflicts today than there have been in several years, and our policy towards Syria and Iraq, our indecision about leaving troops in Afghanistan is creating instability. Our allies are more afraid than I’ve ever seen and our enemies more embolden.
I support the concepts that the President talks about in many ways but if he doesn’t change his policies, the Middle East is going to blow up and we’re going to get hit again here at home. No matter how hard we try, we could get hit anyway. But we are setting in motion policies that I think make it more likely that embassies and consulates will be attacked in Mid East and terrorism is on the rise in our backyard.
And I will end with this thought. We told President Bush to his face in 2006, “Mr. President, your policies are not working in Iraq.”
To President Obama, your foreign policy is not working. You need to adjust it.
In 2009, I actually came up with a plan and I handed it to the President and on two occasions I talked with him personally about it. I spent a lot of time with Rahm Emanuel to find a way to move the prisoners back to Illinois.
As to Charleston, no one suggested that they come to Charleston – I’ll correct that. [Laughter] But I would be willing at the Charleston Naval Brig that if they want to have a court martial or a military commission trial to look at that location as a place you can do trials.
But the jail in Joliet, Illinois was going to be the site.
Here’s the problem. To move the prisoners, you have to move the concept we’re at war. And I believe in due process and humane treatment of detainees under the law of war as well as in our civilian system.
I challenged the President to embrace that law of war detention would be one of the options available to our country.
There’s a certain class of detainees that Sen. [Saxby] Chambliss knows better than anyone else that the intelligence is strong, the evidence is of an intel nature that this person is intimately involved in activities against our country and meets the definition of Al Qaeda-affiliated person who’s actively engaged in terrorist activity. But you’re not going to take that evidence into a court room, either military or civilian, but you will have to prove to a federal judge that the person is, in fact, an enemy combatant. That’s habeas proceeding.
Every detainee gets their day in federal court. But under law of war, you don’t have to take them to trial because they’re enemy combatants to be held off the battlefield.
That’s when it broke down.
Mr. President, if you want to try to find a new location to move these detainees inside the United States, you need to have a plan that will assure the American people that there will be a system to keep these people off the battlefield, and if you’re going to put them in court that we have a way to distinguish between military court and civilian court, and if you’re going to release them that we have a plan to make sure that they won’t go back to fight. Some, no matter what, probably will but 28% is ridiculous.
The difference between a concept and a plan is as follows: Anybody who would send somebody back to Yemen today is doing the people of Yemen a disservice as well as the United States. The President of Yemen has been a better partner. Things are getting somewhat better in Yemen. But I cannot believe, given what I know about Yemen and Sen. McCain’s going next week, that the conditions on the ground in Yemen – and three of the people that attacked our consulate in Benghazi came from Yemen – are such that it would be a good idea to release people we’ve held for years as terrorists back into Yemen. That’s the difference between a concept and an actual plan.
I’d like to add that I’d like the President to announce soon a residual force in Afghanistan somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 to avoid the consequences of what happened in Iraq. People in Afghanistan are trying to hedge their bets. The people with us are very uncertain about what we’re going to do. If the President announce soon a residual insurance policy force, I think it could lead to a good outcome in Afghanistan. We can win in Afghanistan if we make the right choices.
As to Syria, if the President doesn’t engage and change the tide of battle quickly, the King of Jordan could be overthrown in the next 6 months because his economy is under siege. The weapons that are moving around today in Syria are going to get into the hands of Hezbollah, which is Israel’s worst nightmare. As to Iran, Mr. President, we’ve been talking; they’ve been enriching. Up your game. Call the Chinese and the Russians and let them know in no uncertain terms that unless the Iranians change their behavior toward their nuclear ambitions, there’s going to be a conflict, and the best way to avoid it is for Russia and China to get involved and help us.
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