Members of arrollolorado’s congressional delegation were swift to respond to President Barack Obama’s case he delivered this morning to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Even Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet joined the chorus of Republicans who opposed Obama’s plan to bring detainees to U.S. soil.
Obama’s argument: George W. Bush wanted to shut down the U.S. military prison in Cuba. So did John McCain. Seven years ago, shuttering the facility had wide bipartisan support.
“Let us do what’s right with America. Let’s close this chapter in our history,” Obama said.
Since announcing he would close GITMO seven years ago, the political climate in Washington has changed. Many Republicans now want to keep the detention center open — despite criticisms from human rights groups and the international community that the facility violates international law, tarnishes the United States reputation and makes the country less safe.
Republicans in Colorado’s Congressional delegation have been using the possibility of closing Guantanamo Bay and transferring prisoners to Colorado as a leverage point in their campaign to unseat Bennet from the Senate and to ward off the threat of state Sen. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat who’s challenging Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in the 6th Congressional District.
Carroll told Mark Matthews of The Denver Post that without evidence, the U.S. should stop holding detainees indefinitely, raising Republicans’ concerns that she favors closing the prison.
Coffman has been a vocal opponent of shutting down Gitmo and has expressed his concerns that some detainees may be transferred to the ADX in Florence, Colorado — the nation’s highest security federal prison.
“I remain adamantly opposed to closing GTMO,” said Coffman in a statement. “The answer to the President’s plan is no, absolutely not. These hardened terrorists are irregular enemy combatants who should be housed at Guantanamo, and not in Colorado nor in any other state.”
In October, Coffman said the detainees should not be given the same rights prisoners in the United States are granted by the Constitution.
“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.”
Junior Sen. Cory Gardner blasted the Obama administration today and said the closure threatens Colorado and would break a U.S. law that bars moving enemy combatants to U.S. Soil, which the president addressed in his speech, calling on Congress to change that law.
“Regardless of today’s futile proposal, transferring detainees to the U.S. is illegal, and it’s rejected by Coloradans, top Colorado law enforcement officials, and Americans across the country,” said Gardner. “Today’s proposal only signals that the President may be willing to once again circumvent Congress and ignore the very law he approved in order to fulfill his campaign promises. This represents a grave threat to Colorado and our national security and I will take any and all action as a United States Senator to ensure Guantanamo Bay detainees remain in Cuba and out of Colorado.”
Bennet, who has been attacked by Republican for being weak on foreign policy, released a statement supporting closing GITMO but opposing brining detainees to Colorado or the U.S.
“I’ve repeatedly said I do not support the transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military facility to Colorado,” he said. “I’ve voted to close the prison, but I believe military detainees should be held in military prisons. Colorado does not have that type of facility. This plan has done nothing to change my mind. These detainees should not be transferred to Colorado.”
Last month, The Independent spoke with former CIA Middle East expert John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the Bush administration’s use of torture and waterboarding. He had no uncertain words when it came to the Colorado delegation’s fears that inmates would be transferred to the ADX in Florence.
“I think that whole argument is a red herring,” he said. “We have terrorists in our prisons. We have some of the most dangerous people in the world in our prisons. We have the Blind Sheikh. We have the Unabomber. We have Terry Nichols. We’ve got people who are mass murders, cunning mass murderers, criminals on a grand scale. And we’re supposed to be afraid of a handful of Arabs from Guantanamo? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
While the inmates at the ADX in Colorado have been charged and prosecuted for crimes, the detainees in Guantanamo Bay have neither been charged nor prosecuted. Kiriakou described Colorado lawmakers who champion detaining people without charges as “un-American.”
“They don’t want people to have constitutional rights,” Kiriakou said of the lawmakers. “They don’t want people to be protected by the Geneva Convention. That’s what happened. If we had (Guantanamo detainees) in American prisons, they would have constitutional rights — including the right of appeal.”
Terrorists housed in Colorado have included Al-Qaeda’s Zacarias Moussaoui, who helped plan the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols.
“I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing GITMO,” Obama said. “The politics of this are tough. A lot of the American public are worried about terrorism. The notion of having terrorists hold terrorists in the United States can be scary.”
Those fears are unwarranted, as the president tells it.
“We’re already holding a lot of dangerous terrorists in the United Sates.” The prisons across the U.S. are doing a first rate job keeping Americans safe, he said.
“I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. If we don’t deal with this as a nation, when will we deal with it?”
Photo credit: White House