Sen. Cory Gardner sent a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday demanding that the Department of Defense drop any plans to transfer detainees from the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention facility to federal prisons in Colorado.
“This plan is irresponsible, contrary to current U.S. law, and will unnecessarily endanger Coloradans and our communities,” he wrote.
Gardner and other Republicans grumbling about the possible transfer of detainees have forced Democrats to take a stand on the issue – something many in the party would rather avoid, particularly since the Department of Defense has not come up with an actual plan to comment on, as Adam Bozzi, a spokesperson for Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, has noted.
Obama set the stage for this partisan wrangling early in his presidency when he promised to close Gitmo – a Bush-era, War on Terror detention center countless legal experts and courts have condemned for violating international law, ignoring the Geneva Conventions and holding detainees without charges.
“The United States’ detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have become emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. government in the name of terrorism,” reads a statement from Amnesty International.
To the chagrin of international human rights activists, Obama has failed to make good on his promise to shut the facility down — a pledge that helped him and other Democrats get elected in 2008 and 2012. He even issued an executive order in 2009 to close the facility. But that order remains hallow. Just words.
Now, nearing the end of his second term, he is struggling to mobilize support from Democratic lawmakers queasy about having GITMO detainees brought onto U.S. soil.
So far, the President hasn’t presented a concrete plan for shutting the facility down nor for where detainees would be moved to. But the administration is researching a plan, and that irks Gardner and fellow Republicans who are champions of Gitmo.
The Department of Defense has announced it will send a team to visit the Federal Correctional Institute in Florence and Colorado State Penitentiary II in Cañon City to look into how much it would cost to transfer Gitmo detainees to Colorado and whether these two facilities would work.
The DOD is assessing prisons nationwide. There is no concrete plan to move detainees to Colorado that the President could drop per Gardner’s request.
Colorado’s Republicans, who have historically voted to maintain the Bush-era detention center holding so-called “enemy combatants,” have been swinging hard in the past week against closing Gitmo and moving the detainees to the homeland.
Colorado Democrats, who have historically voted to shut down Gitmo, are now expressing concern about having our state house the detainees — whom many Democrats have argued are held illegally and without due process.
Both Gardner and Bennet have questioned the Obama administration’s legal authority to bring Gitmo detainees to the United States.
In his letter, Gardner ripped into Obama: “In addition to immediately abandoning this effort, I further seek clarification under what legal authority your Administration is conducting these assessments. There are restrictions in annual appropriations legislation and the National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits the transfer, release, or assisting in the transfer or release of prisoners from Gitmo to facilities in the Unites [SIC] States. It appears your administration has chosen to ignore current law and move forward with your desire to relocate terrorists to U.S. soil without any legal basis to do so.”
Last week, Bennet said in a statement: “The Department of Defense has no authority to transfer these prisoners or make such modifications, and they have made no case that it makes sense to do so.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has swung into full gear, accusing Bennet of flip-flopping on the issue because he voted against bills that would have prohibited the transfer of Gitmo detainees to the U.S. and simultaneously has expressed concern about detainees being moved to his state.
With a 2016 race nearing, the NRSC has been hitting Bennet on foreign policy issues in lieu of promoting an establishment GOP contender — which the Republican establishment lacks.
Bennet’s supporters argue that it is too early for him to take a strong stand on the issue when there is no concrete plan to bring detainees to Colorado.
“Senator Bennet believes the Guantanamo prison should be closed. That said, the Department of Defense has made no case for transferring prisoners to Colorado, has not provided a coherent long term plan to do so, nor does it have the authority to conduct such transfers,” Bozzi said.
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, of the 6th Congressional District, has joined Gardner in criticizing Obama for attempting to close Gitmo and transfer detainees to Colorado.
“This is outrageous and I’ll do everything I can to stop it,” Coffman wrote in a statement. “The Obama administration views terrorist attacks as just another criminal justice problem where terrorists should be afforded all of the due process protections that bringing them onto U.S. soil will provide. These hardened terrorists, who have perverted Islam into a political ideology, are irregular enemy combatants who should be housed at Guantanamo, and not in Colorado or in any other state.”
Coffman’s opposition to due process for Guantanamo detainees is based on the presumption that they are unquestionably terrorists – though one hallmark of the facility has been that it has held people without charges.
Coffman, who built his career as a military combat veteran taking strong stands against what he calls “radical Islam,” faces reelection in a 2016 race both parties see as a critical battle in the war to control Congress. He plans to make foreign policy a centerpiece of his campaign against Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll — a lawmaker who is considered across party lines as a viable threat to Coffman’s seat, but who does not have a foreign policy record.
Carroll’s statement to The Colorado Independent on the issue was rather succinct: “Obviously, nobody wants convicted terrorists moving into Colorado — or anywhere else for that matter.”
She did not comment on whether the facility should be shut down, what should happen to the detainees, or whether all people held in the facility are indeed “terrorists.”
Republicans are calling on Carroll to join Coffman’s condemnation of Obama.
“Morgan Carroll is trying to have it both ways by saying what Coloradans want to hear while refusing to stand up to the Obama Administration that is trying to bring terrorists onto American soil and into Colorado,” said Zach Hunter of the Republican Congressional Committee. “Carroll must clearly call on the President to keep these terrorists where they belong, out of Colorado and off U.S. soil.”
In the meantime, if Obama is to make good on his promise and shut down Gitmo before leaving office, he’ll need a plan for the detainees and a party that will support him.
Photo credit: National Guard, Creative Commons, Flickr.