Transcript: Testimony by Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton on closing Guantanamo – July 24, 2013

Partial transcript of testimony by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), Senior Adviser to the National Security Network and former Commanding General of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team in Iraq from 2003-2004, 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 had the last operational mission to create the Iraqi armed forces. My biggest challenge, when I did that, was to overcome over 30 years of Saddam despotism and its impact on the society in Iraq.

So we worked really hard to develop what the Brits called the “moral component” to instill the adherence to the rule of law. We drove daily the notion of civilian control of the military, military justice, prisoner management, and battlefield discipline. We stressed accountability.

Then Abu Ghraib blew up on us. The day that happened – the day it hit the press – my senior Iraqi adviser – an Air Force General under Saddam, retired – came into my office and said, “General, you cannot understand how badly this is going to play on the Arab street.” We lost the moral high ground.

The investigation of Abu Ghraib by Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba – a great American hero – found that torture implemented in Guantanamo was exported to detainee operations in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib was the logical outcome of our Guantanamo experience. Men who had served in Guantanamo during the worst days of enhanced interrogation techniques were deployed to Iraq to “Gitmo-ize” interrogations. Not my words, borrowed from testimony. Abu Ghraib was the spawn of Guantanamo and is one reason why I’m convinced that we’ve got to close down this detention center.

You can’t buff Guantanamo enough to shine again after the sins of its past. Improvements in detainee treatment and military commission rules will not change the belief in the minds of our allies and our enemies that Guantanamo is a significant problem to the prosecution of the U.S. national security agenda in general and the U.S. military in particular.

The argument that the Guantanamo represents a valuable intelligence tool is simply wrong. The shelf life of intelligence…and particularly the people who have the potential intelligence is very short.

The argument that Guantanamo facility is necessary to hold dangerous men is simply wrong. As Sen. [Dick] Durbin mentioned, our super-max prisons do this quite well.

We have a great many allies and alliances created for many reasons, most providing for the mutual defense. My team in Iraq was composed of nine nations, military and civilian. In late-night discussions, our Guantanamo problem would come up from time-to-time, and after Abu Ghraib, often.

Some of our closest allies have refused to send us detainees because of Guantanamo, and we’re losing intelligence opportunities every time this happens.

Releasing any individual Guantanamo detainee does not change our national security posture.

To this soldier, the fear-based argument to keep Guantanamo Bay detention facility open is hard to understand.

If brought to the U.S. for prosecution, incarceration, or medical treatment, the detainees will pose no threat to our national security.

The 86 men who have been cleared for transfer should be transferred. We must find lawful dispositions for all law of war detainees as we have done in every conflict.

Further, Guantanamo places our soldiers and nation at risk, not only because it makes America look hypocritical as we promote the rule of law, but because it makes the detainees look like the warriors that they are not. Our leaders in Iraq would pose the question early and often, “Did we create more terrorists today than we managed to take off the streets?” Guantanamo is a terrorist-creating institution and is a direct facilitator in filling out the ranks of Al Qaeda and other terror organizations that would attack our country and our interests. Guantanamo, in military terms, is a combat power generator for the enemy.

We as a nation are strongest when we uphold the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and the other laws and treaties and conventions to which we subscribe. We are weakest when we stray from the rule of law.

We have an opportunity and imperative to close Guantanamo now as we wind down combat operations in Afghanistan. There’s no national security reasons to keep Guantanamo open.

In the words of one of my colleagues, “They don’t win unless they change us.” And we’ve got to resist that attempt to change.

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