Transcript: Hearing Q&A with Sen. Ted Cruz on closing Guantanamo – July 24, 2013

Partial transcript of Q&A with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on “Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal and Human Rights Implications.” The hearing was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on July 24, 2013.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
…It seems to me that this is an issue that inspires a great deal of passion, a great deal of emotion. And it also seems to me that our national security policy should not be derived simply from bumper sticker ideology but rather from careful, hard decisions about how to protect the national security of the United States.

There are two facts in particular that I think are hard facts that I heard very little discussions of from the panel today.

The first is that as of January 2013, the Director of National Intelligence in the Obama administration has confirmed or suspects [sic] that 28% of former Guantanamo detainees re-engaged in terrorism. Now, that is a very inconvenient fact for any argument that would leave a substantial risk of these individuals that are currently in Guantanamo being released.

The second fact is underscored by timing this week, which is on Monday of this week, about 500 prisoners – including senior members of Al Qaeda – escaped from the Abu Ghraib prison, which is now controlled by the Iraqi security forces.

I think that likewise underscores the inherent risk in relying on foreign facilities to detain known terrorists, particularly terrorists for whom there is a substantial risk in their re-engaging in terrorism if they find themselves at large.

The first question I would like to ask is to Gen. Eaton. General, I thank you for your many years of service and leadership. There are as of November 2012, 166 detainees in Guantanamo. Is there any reason to believe that if those individuals were released their recidivism rate would be any less than the Guantanamo detainees who’ve already been released who have re-engaged in terrorism at a rate of 28% according to the head of the DNI?

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), former Commanding General of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team in Iraq from 2003-2004:
Sen. Cruz, thank you for the question. I spent a career managing risk. Soldiers never get all the assets they need to buy a risk down to zero. The question, I believe, could also be posed, is the system at Guantanamo a higher risk than the release of the prisoners we have there now?

We have a terrific system. Our intelligence architecture provided 28%. If we accept 28%, then we have that same intelligence architecture that will help us buy down the risk of placing those individuals back in the care in countries that will take care of them, which is a requirement that this body has imposed upon the Secretary of Defense – a certification process.

So when we talk about releasing the 86 that are cleared for release under conditions that meet the expectations that the Secretary of Defense has to certify, then I think it’s appropriate and I think that the risk associated with that is indeed relatively low; it’s not zero. But I live in a world – a military world – that accounts for risks and you buy the risks down with every factor available to you, and America has a great deal to help buy down that risk.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
Gen. Eaton, if I understood your answer correctly, if detainees are released we can act to mitigate the risk of their re-engaging in terrorism. I would note that it seems to me that you did not dispute the premise of my question that these individuals, if released, we could expect to re-engage in terrorism – at least the same rate. And in fact I would suggest to you surely it was not the case that people we released initially were the most dangerous. Under any rational system, presumably the first people released were those we deemed to be the least dangerous. And so the rational inference would be those remaining would, if anything, return to terrorism at a higher rate not a lower rate than 28%.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), former Commanding General of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team in Iraq from 2003-2004:
Senator, as Yogi said, predictions are really hard especially if it’s about the future. And we’ve got a population that is unknowable to 100% prediction rate. So again we mitigate risk, we buy it down. It will not go to zero but I can’t put a figure on it.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
Well, with respect General, it will go to zero with respect to those detainees if they remain detained. I mean, we’re talking about the risk of future acts of terrorism.

And let me say more broadly to the panel, at the outset I noted what I thought was the most difficult question, which is it’s easy to say close Guantanamo and get an applause from various audiences. The harder question is then what do you do with these terrorists?

It seems to me one of two options. You either send them to U.S. detention facilities. Now, the Chairman has generously volunteered Marion, Illinois to host these terrorists. I don’t know what the citizens of Illinois would think of that. I feel confident I know what the citizens of Texas would think about their coming to Texas. I would note we have had multiple instances of individuals in federal prisons engaging in terrorism, directing terrorist acts from federal prisons, including the Blind Sheikh. Lynne Stewart was convicted for aiding terrorism, for individuals in federal prison.

Or the alternative is to send them to foreign locations, whether it is nations like Yemen with enormous instability or other allies. And given the escape we just saw in Abu Ghraib, it is hard to have any confidence that if these individuals are sent to a foreign facility that they will not in due course be released and in due course commit future acts of terrorism taking the lives of innocent Americans.

I want to close with a final question, which is Mr. Gaffney it has been reported that under the Obama administration approximately 395 people have been killed by drone strikes. Are you aware of any reasonable argument that it is somehow more protective of human rights, more protective of civil liberties to fire a missile at someone from a drone and kill them than it would be to detain them and interrogate them, determine their guilt or innocence and determine what intelligence might be derived from that individual?

Frank Gaffney, Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy:
…Look, I’m probably not the best arbiter of what is humane. You have people on this panel who spend a lot of their time dwelling on that. I kind of focus on national security. But just as a human being, I think if you kill people, that typically is less humane than incarcerating them. Letting them starve to death is, in my judgment, less humane than feeding them involuntarily if necessary. But this is not my specialty and I would defer to others who may have a higher claim on knowledge in this area.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
And we get no actionable intelligence from someone who has been killed by a drone.

Frank Gaffney, Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy:
And that’s where the national security piece comes in. Foreclosing the option to detain and interrogate people is, I would suggest, as I’m Sen. Feinstein knows, a real impediment to our ability to prosecute a war like the one that has been thrust upon us by people who operate with a really high regard for operational security. To the extent that we deny ourselves unilaterally this ability by essentially foreclosing putting them in any place where we can have those kinds of interrogations, I think is – well, I said earlier strong words – but I think it is dereliction of duty on the part of the commander-in-chief.

Elisa Massimino, President of Human Rights First:
…Mr. Chairman, I wonder if I might respond to this question about recidivism that Sen. Cruz raised because it’s certainly a reasonable concern as it is in the criminal context as you heard.

But the claim that 28% of Guantanamo detainees have “rejoined the fight” is highly misleading, and Defense Department officials have said that many detainees included in that category are merely suspected of having some associations with terrorist groups and may very well have not engaged in any activities that threaten our national security.

But that doesn’t mean that all the prisoners at Gitmo are somehow innocent farmers and there’s no risk. I really think that this question about recidivism has to relate to what is our overall objective. You know, a lot of people at Guantanamo are precisely the kinds of targets that Al Qaeda looks to for cannon fodder, and some of them could cause harm if they are released. But that doesn’t make them any different from the hundreds of thousands of other angry young men throughout the Muslim world who believe in the same cause, and there are sadly no shortage of potential suicide bombers. Guantanamo does nothing to solve that problem; in fact, it probably makes it worse.


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