Transcript: Remarks by Sen. Patrick Leahy on closing Guantanamo – July 24, 2013

Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) 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.

…I think it’s long past time we take action to end this unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history. You can do that and still fight terrorism as it threatens us.

It is nice to make up quotes and pretend the President said something about ‘taking a holiday’ from terrorism but, of course, he never said any such thing.

But I do know that for over a decade, the indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo has contradicted our most basic principles of justice, has degraded our international standing, and by itself, it has harmed our national security.

I think it’s shameful we’re still even debating this issue.

As long as we keep this detention center open at Guantanamo, it continues to serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists, just as the photographs at Abu Ghraib did. It’ll discredit America’s historic role as a leader in human rights.

Countries that champion the rule of law and human rights do not lock away prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. Countries that champion the rule of law and human rights do not strap prisoners down and forcibly feed them against their will. We condemn authoritarian states when they do this – and we should. But we should not tolerate the same thing in our country.

As Sen. [Dick] Durbin points out, at a time of sequestration, to be spending as much as $2.5 or $2.7 million per prisoner to hold them in Guantanamo. If we are going to be holding these people, you could do it for far, far less at our super-max prisons, if that is the issue.

I mean, how could we talk about all the things we have to take out of our budget…things that actually benefit American and yet we can spend this kind of a fortune down there, talk about spending hundreds of million dollars more to overhaul the compound – that’s what’s been requested.

For more than a decade, we’ve seen precious manpower, resources, money squandered on this long failed experiment instead of being directed to important national security missions at home and abroad. I think the waste has to end.

Furthermore, again Sen. Durbin pointed out, the military commission system for trying these detainees is not working – the tiny handful that have been prosecuted there as compared to hundreds in our federal courts. We’ve already seen federal courts overturn two convictions in Guantanamo in opinions that would prevent the military from bringing conspiracy and material support charges against detainees – something that even the lead military prosecutor at Guantanamo himself acknowledged. The same charges, though, could be pursued in federal courts, where prosecutors do have a strong track record of obtaining long prison sentences against those who seek to do us harm.

We’re the most powerful nation on Earth. Why do we act afraid to use the best federal court system we’ve ever seen or the best court system in the world? And we act like we’re afraid to use it. We convicted nearly 500 terrorism suspects since 9/11 in these federal courts. So the status quo in Guantanamo is untenable.

I appreciate the President’s renewed vow to shuttered this unnecessary, expensive, inefficient prison, decision in June to appoint a new special envoy in the State Department to coordinate efforts to repatriate detainees – a positive step towards closing the facility…

Now, I’m glad to see common-sense provision included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act recently reported by the Senate Armed Services Committee – incremental but it will help…


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