“The argued reason why the Obama administration wants to close Guantanamo bay is because of its image around the world,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R, Kan.) said in a conference call with bloggers this morning. Brownback, back from a visit to Gitmo, asserted that the symbolic closing of Guantanamo carries real-world drawbacks and fails to achieve even its stated purpose.
At the heart of European and Muslim objections on U.S. detainment policy, Brownback said, “it isn’t Guantanamo Bay per se. It is that you’re detaining these individuals at all. A number of countries in Europe believe they should have been tried already…If we move them to another facility but don’t try some of the detainees,” which is currently President Obama’s plan, “then the European objection remains. And the same in the Muslim world — they don’t believe we should be detaining them at all. So you move them to another location, but the objection remains…The target of their disgust becomes San Quentin or a military facility in some other state instead of Guantanamo Bay….For that reason, the Obama administration doesn’t get what it wants by closing Guantanamo Bay.”
Brownback also said that the “not-in-my-backyard” attitude toward the detainees stems not from any prison’s inability to hold them, but rather in the fact that whatever prison does hold them will become a new and very accessible focal point for terrorists seeking to send a message.
“It isn’t that we couldn’t contain the individuals in some other prison around the world,” he said. “The issue is people getting into and trying to make a political statement — blowing up a bomb around a facility where these individuals or somebody like them might be contained in the United States.” As an example, Brownback cited Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as a possible destination for the detainees. “You could probably contain them there,” Brownback said, but the facility “is bordered by the Missouri River, it’s on the edge of Kansas City…There’s a train that runs through the place every fifteen minutes, and there are school children of our military personnel in a school very nearby. I think the place becomes a prime target for people who want to make a statement about the detention of the terrorists…Whereas in Guantanamo Bay, you’ve got a facility that has limited access.”
Brownback said it could cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” to construct a new facility or to sufficiently secure an existing one for this purpose. “It’s an expense that, frankly, we cannot afford at this time.”
He also questioned the wisdom of moving detainees after the government has already constructed a court facility in Guantanamo with secure video links for interviewing witnesses from remote locations. “This would actually slow down the military commission court and the trials if we move the detainees to another location,” he said. “We have a secured court system constructed and ready to go, set up at Guantanamo Bay. If you move the detainees to another place, you’re going to have to replicate that secure system.”