Transcript: Testimony by Elisa Massimino on closing Guantanamo – July 24, 2013

Partial transcript of the testimony by Elisa Massimino, President of Human Rights First, 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.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the importance of closing Guantanamo and how we can do so in a way that protects our country, our national security, and our values.

As the President of an organization whose central mission is to advance American global leadership on human rights, I focus on ensuring that our country remains a beacon to freedom-seeking people around the world and that it can continue to lead by the power of example.

That is why after the terrorist attack on our country, we joined forces with more than 50 retired generals and admirals, led by former Marine Corps Commandant [Charles] Krulak and former CENTCOM Commander Joe Hoar, who believe that our values and institutions are assets in the fight against terrorism, not liabilities.

I have been to Guantanamo and met the dedicated people serving there under difficult circumstances. We have been official observers to every military commission convened at Guantanamo since its inception. We know and have great respect for the service members and civilian defense lawyers who are struggling to navigate this untested and jerry-rigged system to wring some form of justice from it.

Some would have you believe that Guantanamo’s critics are a handful of human rights activists, some foreigners, and defense lawyers for detainees. That’s not true.

The loudest and most persistent calls to close the prison come from our own senior defense, law enforcement, and intelligence and diplomatic officials – people with a 360 view of the costs and benefits of Guantanamo who have concluded that our national security is best served by closing it.

President Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo. Henry Kissinger called Guantanamo a “blot on our national reputation”. Jim Baker said it has given America a “very, very bad name”. Admiral Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence called Guantanamo a “rallying cry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security”. Secretary [Robert] Gates told President Bush that Guantanamo was a national security liability and advised him to close it down. Maj. Gen. Michael Leonard, as you said, who was in charge of standing up Guantanamo in 2002, said it cost us the moral high ground. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral [Mike] Mullen said that Guantanamo has been a “recruiting symbol for our enemies”. Gen. Colin Powell said he would close it “not tomorrow, this afternoon”. And Sen. [John] McCain has suggested that it would be an act of moral courage to find a way to shutter the prison.

Whatever one thinks about the initial benefits of detaining prisoners at Guantanamo, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that we no longer need it.

Today’s hearing catalogue the reasons why it is imperative to transform this consensus into action. We heard about the astronomical costs of Guantanamo at a time when the Pentagon is furloughing more than half a million employees. Gen. [Paul] Eaton reminded us that the impending end of combat operations in Afghanistan will require a change in detention authorities. Gen. [Stephen] Xenakis described the deterioration of morale at Guantanamo and the degraded mental state of many of the prisoners – a combination that is leading to a tipping point. And Lt. Fryday told us how Guantanamo has warped our system of justice.

In many ways, the struggle with Al Qaeda is a war of ideals. That is the battleground on which our country should have the greatest advantage.

Sometimes when we lose our way, outsiders who admire our values can remind us of who we are and what we stand for.

Some family members of Guantanamo detainees have written letters to you in advance of this hearing, and I want to quote from them.

Ahmed Hadjarab, the uncle of an Algerian who has been detained for more than a decade without charge and has been cleared for release, wrote, “When in 2002, I was told that Nabil was detained by the Americans, I thought that at least he would have a right to a fair trial. I thought his rights would be respected and that justice would prevail. What I feel today is mostly incomprehension. How can this nation, one that prides itself on defending human rights, close its eyes to these violations of its founding principles?”

Hisham Sliti from Tunisia has been held for more than a decade without charge. He, too, has been cleared for transfer. His mother wrote, “I do not understand why my son is still in Guantanamo after all these years when we know he has been cleared. We never thought the United States was the kind of place where people could be held like this.”

We’ve often talked about who we are as a nation. But sooner or later, who we are cannot be separated from what we do.

As we wind down the war in Afghanistan, we must expunge the legacy of Guantanamo and restore America’s reputation for justice and the rule of law.

The question is not why or if, but how.

Today, Human Rights First has published a comprehensive exit strategy with a detailed plan for closing the prison. Among the challenges facing our country today, closing Guantanamo is far from the most complex. While it may be politically complicated, as Sen. McCain recently said, “It’s not rocket science.” It is a risk management exercise, and the risk is manageable.

With leadership from the President and Congress, we can get this done.

Thank you again for convening this hearing and soliciting our views. We’re deeply grateful for your leadership, Mr. Chairman, on this and so many human rights issues.


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