Transcript: Testimony by Rep. Adam Smith on closing Guantanamo – July 24, 2013

Partial transcript of the testimony by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, 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’m just here to argue that we should close Guantanamo Bay. A number of issues have been raised, which are separate from that question.

I am not here to argue that we should stop detaining and interrogating suspects or that we should even necessarily release any number of the suspects that are at Guantanamo. Those are difficult questions and I – don’t get me wrong – I have positions on that. I certainly think that the 84 inmates that we have designated for release as being acceptable risks should be released. But that is an entirely separate question from where we hold them.

And the argument that I make is that Guantanamo Bay you have to balance the cost and the benefit, and there is literally no benefit to keeping Guantanamo Bay open.

All of the arguments that I’ve heard about necessity to detain and interrogate, the necessity to continue to fight the war – which I agree with completely – the necessity to protect ourselves from our enemies – all of that can be accomplished by holding them within the United States.

And it has just been stupefying to me the last several years the degree to which people have become unaware of the fact that we already hold hundreds of terrorists in United States super-max prisons, including Ramzi Yousef, the Blind Sheikh, Abdulmutallab – many notorious Al Qaeda operatives. We continue to do that right here in the U.S. safely, efficiently, and I might add very much more cost-effectively.

I mean, number one, the average cost of an inmate is estimated at like $1.5 million a year in Guantanamo. Now, there will be transition costs to shut down Guantanamo and open up here but in the long run there’s no question that it is cheaper to hold them here in the U.S. than it is in Guantanamo.

So the question is what is the benefit of keeping that prison open? There’s absolutely none. There’s been spurious arguments made about somehow more constitutional rights will apply if they come to the U.S. when the Supreme Court has already ruled that Guantanamo is treated like the U.S. – that’s why they granted habeas under the people in Guantanamo. There are no greater constitutional rights here in the U.S. than out there. There’s no benefit.

So what is the cost? The cost, well, I think is number one the cost – the sheer amount of money that we have to spend to maintain this facility. But understand how the international community looks at Guantanamo. It was open in the first place as an effort to get around the United States’ constitution. It was the hope that if we held them outside of the territorial United States, we would not have to abide by the those pesky constitutional values and rules that we hold so dear in this country. And the world knows that, and it is an international eyesore as a result. Now, as it turns out, as I said, the Supreme Court said nice try but you are effectively in control of them so the Constitution does in fact apply.

But Secretary Gates, George W. Bush, John McCain – many hardcore Republicans who I think would take a backseat to no one in prosecuting this war have said that we need to close this prison because it is hurting us with our allies and inspiring our enemies.

Now, I’m not naive. I’m not going to tell you that the only reason Al Qaeda attacks us is because of Guantanamo Bay. Far from it. But it certainly stands out there as one recruiting tool that, again, is wholly unnecessary.

So what I propose – propose an amendment on the House side is for an orderly way to close the prison. The President has also put out a plan – I know he’s occasionally accused of not having one but I actually have it in my file folder right next to me – for how we should go about closing Guantanamo Bay.

And again, it is not even about recidivism or any of those arguments. Those are arguments that you can have separate. This argument isn’t about whether or not we should hold them; it’s about where we should hold them. And holding them in Guantanamo Bay hampers our efforts to successfully prosecute the war against Al Qaeda. It continues to be a piece of evidence that our allies use to say well, we don’t want to cooperate with the U.S. because we don’t like they way they implement their constitution, we don’t like the way they treat prisoners. That hampers our ability to successfully prosecute this war.

And the only argument that’s left hanging out there is somehow we cannot safely hold these people in the U.S. and again I find that argument to be patently ridiculous because we are safely holding hundreds of terrorists, not to mention mass murderers and pedophiles and some of the most dangerous people in the world. If the United States of America is incapable of successfully holding a dangerous inmate, then we are all in a world of hurt Guantanamo or no Guantanamo. And I hope we understand that.

And also the notion that this will somehow inspire Al Qaeda more. I hate to tell you that Al Qaeda is sufficiently inspired right now. They’re doing everything they can to attack us. And I applaud the various efforts that we put forth to stop them. But the idea that instead of having 400 terrorist inmates that we have 484 in the U.S. is going to somehow massively increase the threat, well, it’s just ridiculous on its face.

There is no benefit. The cost is great. Let’s get around to closing Guantanamo as soon as we can.

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