As military and national security officials who have spent our entire careers fighting to protect the American people and the defend country from attack, we all agree that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay needs to be closed-as do five former Secretaries of State, Gen. David Petraeus, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. We also agree with you that the discussion over closing Guantanamo and moving the detainees to a new facility needs to occur, as you have said, in a “civil and rational way.” That is why we were disappointed last week-during a town hall meeting in Standish, MI, whose prison is a possible site to detain terror suspects -to hear you politicize such a critical national security issue and disseminate misrepresentations and exaggerations about closing Guantanamo and the possibility of housing terrorist suspects on American soil. In doing so, you spread fear in order to score political points, and perpetuate the Bush/Cheney era strategy of seeking political victories instead of doing what’s right to protect the country.
According to reports, you said there was “much to fear” if the detainees came to Standish. Standish tavern owner Dave Munson stated your comments “scared the heck out [him]…soft targets and safe zones, that if they came to this country they would have rights, visitors and friends would come who could be jihadists.” But you also acknowledged that the Supermax Facility in Florence, CO-which houses terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack who was captured in Pakistan, Zacharias Moussaoui, convicted in connection to the attacks on 9/11, as well as the East Africa Embassy bombers-has never had a major incident or attempted jailbreak. And indeed American prison facilities-and the men and women who work there-have proven themselves extremely capable of protecting American lives while also imprisoning dangerous terrorists; even after decades, we have never had a major incident tied to the domestic imprisonment of terrorists.
The former warden of the Supermax facility said prisoners “spend up to 23 hours a day in their cells, every minute, every meal. The window in their cell is blocked so they can’t see the mountains.” Yet you stated that detainees housed in America “would have greater opportunities to command and control their networks through outsiders and to spread radical jihadist ideology.” The Supermax warden also stated that Ramzi Yousef has never left his cell. If the same-if not stricter-standards are applied to Guantanamo detainees held domestically, then how exactly would they command terrorist networks overseas?
You also said in the past that you “have no doubt that we could move these folks into a prison in Michigan. We could move them into a maximum security prison perhaps anywhere around the country. And there’s no doubt in my mind that we could probably contain them and hold them and they wouldn’t escape.” Do you still believe this to be the case?
You also stated in testimony to the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee that “making Michigan home to the world’s most dangerous terrorists will not make it more attractive for tourists, families or potential job providers.” We ask if you can say with certainty that Colorado’s economy has been negatively affected by housing terrorists in the Florence facility-or the economies of Illinois, New York City, or North Carolina, for that matter-which have all held or detained some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists?
The bottom line is while the Administration should provide a clear plan for closing Guantanamo and transferring detainees, we should also not allow the destructive politics of fear, which tarnish America’s national security imperatives, to dictate the debate. By stirring up panic and distorting reality for political purposes, you do a disservice to the people of Michigan and the United States. Politicizing national security for partisan gain has dangerous consequences for effectively defending this country and protecting American lives.
You yourself once demanded that “partisan political games have no place when it comes to national security.” We ask you to live up to your own standards when it comes to discussing Guantanamo Bay and detainees. Whether it’s in Standish Michigan or the halls of Congress, politicizing national security is always dangerous. We ask you to return the debate to the “civil and rational” in order to stop the spreading of fear that plays into the very hands of the enemies we are trying to defeat.
Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham (US Army Res. Ret.), Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants at Guantanamo Bay, 2004-2005
Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton (USA, Ret.), National Security Network Senior Adviser
Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, Jr. (USA Ret.)
Vice Admiral Lee Gunn (USN, Ret.)
Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick (USA, Ret.), Former Deputy National Security Adviser
Richard Clarke, Former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council
Margaret Henoch, Retired Senior Officer, Central Intelligence Agency
Jonathan Winer, Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of State for International Law Enforcement
Vic Comras, Former State Department Minister Counselor
Michael Kraft, Former Senior Advisor, State Department Counterterrorism Office