Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009

Floor Speech

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: May 19, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I say to my good friend the majority leader, I understand he has laid down an amendment to be offered by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, our good friend from Hawaii, and Senator Inhofe related to Guantanamo. I am pleased the majority has recognized that the President's policy of putting an arbitrary deadline on the closing of Guantanamo is a mistake. A first step toward moving us in the direction of getting a new policy is to prevent funding in this bill or any other bill from being used for the purpose of closing Guantanamo. What we need to remember is that Guantanamo is a $200 million state-of-the-art facility. It has appropriate courtrooms for the military commissions we established a couple years ago at the direction of the Supreme Court. No one has ever escaped from Guantanamo.

We need to think, once again, about the rightness of the policy of closing this facility. It presents an immediate dilemma. Among the 250 or so people who are left there now are some of the most hardened terrorists in the world, people who planned the 9/11 attacks on this country. We know how the Senate feels about bringing them to the United States. We had that vote 2 years ago. It was 94 to 3 against bringing these terrorists to the United States. What we need is to rethink the policy of closing this facility. If our rationale for closing it is to be more popular with the Europeans, I must say we don't represent the Europeans. We represent the people of the United States. We have a pretty clear sense of how the people in this country feel about bringing these terrorists to the United States.

I congratulate our good friends in the majority. They are heading in the right direction. We know the President on national security issues has shown some flexibility in the past. For example, he changed his position on releasing photographs of things that occurred at Abu Ghraib. He changed his position on the using of military commissions and has now rethought that and opened the possibility that maybe military commissions established by the previous administration and this Congress are a good way to try these terrorists. He rethought his position on Iraq and moved away from an arbitrary timeline for withdrawal. We know he has now ordered a surge in Afghanistan led by the same people who orchestrated and led the surge in Iraq which was so successful. So the President has demonstrated his ability to rethink these national security issues.

I am confident and hopeful he will now, getting this clear message from both the House and the Senate on the appropriations bill, begin to rethink the appropriateness of an arbitrary timeline for the closing of Guantanamo.

I fully intend to support this amendment. I hope all Members of the Senate will. I thank Senator Inouye and Senator Cochran, who is here, for their leadership on this bill. I particularly thank Senator Inhofe, who has been one of our leaders on this subject for a long time and reminded everyone today that he was down at Guantanamo not too long after 9/11 and has been there a number of times. I have been there myself. We all know it is a state-of-the-art facility in which the detainees are appropriately and humanely treated.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I will add that both President Bush and Senator McCain indicated they would like to close Guantanamo but never suggested a specific time for doing it. The reason for that is they were confronted with the realities of this decision. If there were a specific timeline, it was difficult to figure out what to do with the detainees.

In addition to that, this administration--at least the Attorney General--has indicated there is a possibility they are going to allow some of the Chinese terrorists, the Uighars, to be released in the United States not in a prison. In other words, presumably they would be walking around in our country. So this issue is not totally behind us.

Again, I congratulate our friends on the other side for their movement on this issue. All these problems have not yet been solved. We all want to protect the homeland from future attacks. We know incarceration at Guantanamo has worked. No one has ever escaped from Guantanamo.

We know what happened when you had a terrorist trial in Alexandria, VA. Ask the mayor of Alexandria. The Moussaoui trial--it made their community a target for attacks. When they moved Moussaoui to and from the courtroom, they had to shut down large sections of the community.

It raises all kinds of problems if you bring a terrorist to U.S. soil, about whether they are going to be granted, in effect, more rights by having the
Bill of Rights apply to them in a Federal court system than a U.S. soldier tried in a military court. There are lots of very complicated issues, which led both Senator McCain, who is fully able to speak for himself on this issue, and President Bush to never put a specific timetable for closure. That is the difference between their position and the position of the President.

Having said that, the President has demonstrated, as I said earlier, a lot of flexibility on these national security issues. I am hopeful he will continue to work his way in the direction of a policy that will keep America safe.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I wish to say a few words about an amendment I am about to offer that relates to the President's Executive order of January 22 on the disposition of detainees at Guantanamo.

As part of that Executive order, a so-called detainee task force was created for the purpose of reviewing the records of detainees to determine whether they should be released. It is my view that any information obtained by this task force should be made readily available to the appropriate chairman and ranking members of the committees of jurisdiction. So the amendment I am about to send to the desk establishes a reporting requirement that would require the administration to provide a threat assessment of every detainee held at Guantanamo. This threat assessment, which could be shared with Congress in a classified report--remember, this would be in a classified report only--would indicate the likelihood of detainees returning to acts of terrorism. It would also report on and evaluate any threat that al-Qaida might be making to recruit detainees once they are released from U.S. custody.

Many of the remaining 240 detainees at Guantanamo are from Yemen, which has no rehabilitation program to speak of, and Saudi Arabia, which has a rehab program, but which, frankly, hasn't been very successful at keeping released detainees from rejoining the fight even after they go through this rehabilitation program. The recidivism among released detainees is of great concern to those of us who have oversight responsibilities here in Congress. So according to my amendment, the President would have to report to Congress before--I repeat, before--releasing any of the detainees at Guantanamo. More specifically, the administration would have to certify that any detainee it wishes to release prior to submitting this report poses no risk--no risk--to American military personnel stationed around the world.

This is a simple amendment that reflects the concerns of Americans about the dangers of releasing terrorists either here or in their home countries where they could then return to the fight. Until now, the administration has offered vague assurances it will not do anything to make Americans less safe. This amendment says that Americans expect more than that. Americans want the assurance that the President's arbitrary deadline to close Guantanamo by next January will pose no risk to our military servicemembers overseas.

I know there is an amendment pending at the desk, so I ask unanimous consent that it be set aside and that my amendment be sent to the desk.

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