Press Conference With Senate Republicans - Senate Vote on Funds for Guantanamo Closure
PARTICIPANTS: SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER; SENATOR JAMES INHOFE (R-OK); SENATOR PAT ROBERTS (R-KS); SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA); SENATOR JIM DEMINT (R-SC); SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL); SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS); SENATOR DAVID VITTER (R-LA)
Copyright ©2009 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Carina Nyberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-202-216-2706.
SEN. INHOFE: Well, let me start off here. We -- as you know, the vote is just winding up right now. It's an overwhelming vote, Democrats and Republicans, now saying that no, we don't want to close Guantanamo Bay until such time as a final disposition can be made of some 240 terrorists.
I want to just be real upfront with all of you. I'd go further than that. As I said on the Senate floor, a few minutes ago, I disagree with some of the others, who are voting for this, because I think we should keep Guantanamo Bay open.
There is no excuse to close that thing. We've had all kinds of reports. We've had General Walsh or Admiral Walsh go down there, spend two weeks interrogating, talking, visiting, looking at records.
They can't find any incidents of human rights abuses. Good medical treatment; everything that's down there is probably better than most of them down there deserve.
And here we have a resource. And I ask you guys, how many good deals do we have, in America, where something like that costs us only $4,000 a year? That's the same price they started charging us in 1902.
And so the idea of giving up that resource is just ludicrous. And the only excuse they use is, well, somehow we're perceived over in Europe as something that's a symbol; in the Middle East. We need to close it because of Abu Ghraib and all that.
Well, Abu Ghraib; some things happened there that shouldn't have happened. Nothing has happened here that shouldn't have happened. And you know, if we're going to start responding to the Europeans, as to what we do with our resources, the next time they'll come and say, we want you to close the Everglades. Well, that's fine, whatever you say is good.
I want to compliment these guys behind me here, because we're all -- this is a united effort. We actually had enough votes to bring this up as the first amendment.
I want to thank Mitch McConnell for allowing me to bring this up first. However at the last minute, there was a twist. And I think most of you know what happened. The Democrats decided they didn't want to have to carry that legacy back. And so they put in the Inouye amendment, using our same language.
The last thing I would mention is that the job isn't over yet, because this is on an Appropriations bill. This goes to the end of the fiscal year. It's my intention, and we already have these co- sponsors, on S. 370, which will take it beyond that. And this would be the permanent nail in that coffin.
With that, I would like to ask Senator Roberts to comment.
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, thank you, Jim. And the first thing I want to do is -- I think you all hear from Republicans who, from time to time, will complain about press coverage. So I would feel remiss if I didn't do at least part of that.
I'm a little upset. When I was reading the headlines today, it indicated Democrats stop prisoners or, pardon me, terrorists from coming to the United States. It was not Democrats. It was Democrats who finally listened to the American people but had to do that, because of the efforts of one man, and that's Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.
All Americans owe him a debt of gratitude; more especially those of us, in Kansas, who were worried very much about Fort Leavenworth being a possible site.
And so Jim, thank you for the job that you did. And thank you to all the senators who joined Jim. And thanks to the leader, who gave Jim the reins. And he did an outstanding job. I think he pretty well summed it up. I think this was a victory for the American people.
I think the American people, by every poll that I saw and, of course, all of the telephone calls that we were getting, from Kansas, certainly do not want terrorists in the U.S. homeland. There's a lot of different reasons for that. And Jim mentioned something else that, I think, is terribly important.
We must be very vigilant because in listening to my colleagues across the aisle, other than blaming the Bush administration, they said, well, there will be a plan.
There will be a commission, which is already set up. And they're going to come up with a plan.
And so we have to watch and -- carefully watch and see what that plan is. And again, we must make it absolutely clear that the Senate of the United States is not going to permit any terrorists who are coming from the U.S. homeland.
All you've got to think about -- more especially if you're in the media -- stop and think about Danny Pearl, who was beheaded -- beheaded -- by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is now still at Gitmo. That's the kind of people that we're talking about. Not all of them are in that category, but a great many are. And if you look at it from that standpoint, I think you can understand why this is a very significant victory for us.
Thank you, Jim. It was good to -- I think I rode -- I think you were riding point, and I was riding at the end of the posse. But thank you for the job that you did. I appreciate it.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator Roberts.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, I want to commend Senator Inhofe and Senator McConnell for their strong leadership on this issue. It's one that the American people have demanded, and have been up in arms about. And I'm glad that the Democrats finally realized that the American people care about the fact that prisoners from Guantanamo may be coming to the United States, and that there is a potential for them to -- released in their home towns. Now we've stripped that funding out of here, thanks to the leadership of Senator Inhofe and Senator McConnell. And I'm proud to be a part of it.
We've got another amendment that takes it one step further. We also amend the immigration law to keep these individuals from coming into the United States under our immigration laws. But also, if the president uses his Article II powers to try to bring them in, then what we say in our amendment is that, on a permanent basis, if they come into this country, they can never be released into United States society; that if for some reason they are brought here and they are released, they immediately go into the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. That's mandated. And they'll remain there to be reviewed on an every-six-month basis.
So we want to make sure that -- with Senator Inhofe and Senator McConnell's bill, that they don't come here. But if they ever do come here, we're going to make sure they're never released into American society.
And I want to thank again -- Jim, good job.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you. Thank you, Senator Chambliss.
SEN. DEMINT: Thank you. I, too, want to thank Senator Inhofe for leading the way on this. The disturbing fact of this whole debate was that the president and the Democrat majority were willing to compromise the security of our homeland to please the rest of the world.
There's no question the president was going to close Gitmo, and he asked for the money to bring them to the United States and upgrade our prisons to hold them here. You have to be very naive to think the rest of the world is going to cheer when we put them in American prisons or even release them on American soil.
This would have happened unless for -- except for a few leaders here in the Senate, a few Republicans, who took the message to the American people and told them what was going to happen. And today you see what happens when Americans stand up in outrage over something like this. The Democrats backed down and are now trying to take credit for what has happened. But I think you know the facts. Senator Inhofe has been working on this for a number of weeks. He's been talking about it on the floor, in the media, as well as the other senators here behind me. And the president, the Democrats have only backed down because the American people found out what they were planning to do.
SEN. INHOFE: Senator Sessions.
Thank you, Senator DeMint.
SEN. SESSIONS: Thank you, Jim, and thank you for your leadership and that of Senator McConnell, who's been steadfast on this from the very beginning and articulate about it.
I would just highlight the disappointment that I have that Attorney General Holder has not responded to my letter of April 2nd and of May 4th, in which I inquire about his stated objective to release the Uighurs from Guantanamo into our society, not in prison, the way they have indicted it publicly, but to actually release them into the community.
The Los Angeles Times reported, I believe a couple of weeks ago, that they watched at -- on television a soccer game, the Uighurs did, at Guantanamo, and they do allow prisoners those kind of opportunities. And when a woman came on with short-sleeve blouse on, one of them jumped up and grabbed the television and threw it on the floor.
They have been -- this -- the Treasury Department asserted that Abdul Haq, who was the trainer of these Uighurs -- they certified in April of this year again that he is a terrorist leader and they were participating in a terrorist camp and indeed said that the terrorist organization Haq led is directly connected to al Qaeda, not just another terrorist group.
So I think we are a bit ahead of ourselves in seeking some sort of a political spin here to eliminate the detention facility at Guantanamo.
And we are not thinking rigorously about what it's all about. These persons are barred by the United States code. Because they trained at a terrorist camp, they're barred from being released into the United States. I don't think there's any way, except through the most unjustifiable contortions, could somebody justify abandoning that plain law that the attorney general is required to enforce.
And I'm disappointed we haven't heard anything from it. Perhaps the president's speech tomorrow will address it. I hope so.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator Sessions.
Been joined by our leader, here. Senator McConnell, we've been complimenting you on your leadership on this issue. Would you like to make any comments?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, thanks. Let me just thank Senator Inhofe and our other colleagues here for their involvement in this important issue, and underscore what I think the most important thing here is: that the Democrats and the president have demonstrated some flexibility here.
This is about changing policy. The decision to have an arbitrary deadline for the closing of Guantanamo was a mistake. It's a mistake that needs to be revisited. And I want to commend the president for, in the past, showing flexibility on Iraq. He had originally had a date certain for withdrawal in Iraq. That has now changed. He was originally going to release photographs from Abu Ghraib. That has now changed. He was originally not going to use the military commissions. He's now indicated military commissions will be used for some of these detainees.
So the president has shown, in the national-security area, a willingness to revisit decisions, to take another look at them. Clearly, I think, they need to understand, and I think are beginning to understand, as evidenced by the vote on the Senate floor, that closing Guantanamo without a plan is a bad idea. And people like Senator Inhofe and I have said from the very beginning, closing it at all is not a good idea.
I've never felt -- I differed with the previous president on that issue -- although I must say, in defense of President Bush and Senator McCain, who also indicated at one point he was in favor of closing the facility, they didn't say "without a plan to do something with the detainees."
I think it's a $200-million state-of-the-art facility, the perfect place for terrorists, from which none of them have ever escaped, and I hope the president will, at some point, realize that that is, in fact, the best place for them. Thank you very much.
SEN. INHOFE: You might also add that that's the only place where we have an expeditionary legal complex to take care of --
SEN. MCCONNELL: The trials.
SEN. INHOFE: -- these tribunals.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Thanks, gentlemen. Congratulations and thank the leader as well, for bringing this and making it a focal-point issue.
I just led a congressional delegation this last week to Guantanamo Bay and came away with the clear conclusion that closing Guantanamo Bay would be extraordinarily difficult, enormously expensive and totally unnecessary. This is a well-run facility that's doing its mission, and the detainees are being treated humanely and appropriately. I think this is a victory for the American public, and I would simply say to the president, I was very pleased that he adjusted course on the military commission.
I think that's the right way to go. And we've got a military commission courtroom set up to handle this in Guantanamo Bay.
I'd invite him to come to the Congress and work with us now on the issue of Guantanamo Bay. As he reconsidered the military commission piece of it, I think he should reconsider Guantanamo Bay. And with this vote today, I hope he'll take that as a message and a signal and a chance to engage this issue with the Congress and so that we can take care of the detainees and also take care of the safety and security of our country.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator. Senator Hutchison.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX): Well, the issue, I think, has been garbled. The issue of Guantanamo Bay is, is it secure; are the conditions good; and is it the best for the American people's safety that Guantanamo stay open? The answer to all of those is yes.
Guantanamo Bay is clean. The conditions are good. I've been there as well; I have looked at it myself. And it is secure. We have had no escapes. And to come forward without a plan for where these prisoners would go, when we know that 60 of them that have left Guantanamo Bay have reentered the terrorist networks overseas, even when they have been released to people who are said to be allies, is one that means America cannot take this risk. We cannot afford to risk the security of the American people by letting these prisoners go to other places or by -- certainly not putting them in this country.
We -- we did the right thing today. I hope the president will sit down and give a plan, and I hope that his decision is to keep this safe, secure prison right where it is.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator Hutchison.
SEN. VITTER: Thanks, Jim. First of all, I want to congratulate you and Mitch McConnell and others for this victory today on the issue. And I hope we continue to earn victories on this issue and come up with the right policy on Guantanamo, which, in my opinion also, is to keep it open.
I was very disappointed with the president's announcement several weeks ago, because I thought his announcement to close Guantanamo by a date certain was putting PR ahead of national security and was making an announcement before we had any responsible plan to get there. I hope today is the first step in rethinking all of that so we put all of our fellow Americans' national security first and foremost and pursue everything with that focus.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator Vitter.
And Senator Johanns, who just got back, I guess, a couple days ago.
SEN. JOHANNS: Well, let me thank Senator Brownback for putting that visit to Guantanamo together. If I could maybe just fill in a little bit of detail here.
This was my first trip to Guantanamo. I must admit I did not know what to expect. There, of course, are all kinds of reports about what happens there, what doesn't happen. But here's what I observed.
As we all know, there are about 240 detainees there. They get three meals a day. Those meals adhere to cultural dietary requirements. The day we were there it was a rather warm, humid day. The buildings, all built since 2001, 9/11, are comfort controlled, so they were air conditioned. They were very, very comfortable buildings, admittedly a detention facility, no doubt about that.
The housing needs of these detainees are being met. They have beds, flushing toilets, clothing, all the hygienic items that you would expect them to have. Five times a day they are called to prayer. And that happened, actually, while we were there. And in essence, Guantanamo shuts down during that 20 minutes of prayer. We were even informed that unless it's a real emergency, if there's construction equipment that is working and operating during that call to prayer, it will shut down. We were out in the yard at the time. We were moved into a building and we spoke in very hushed tones so not to have any disruption whatsoever of their right to have that prayer time.
The detainees have sent and they've received mail. The estimate I heard was 90,000 pieces since '03. They do have access to television. Al-Jazeera News is actually available to them. But they have access to other programming on color television.
They have access to a 12,000-volume library.
The health care that was provided there was represented to be as good as those who guard them. And actually, I have to imagine that maybe it's even a little bit more accessible. We walked into an operating room, and all the equipment is there. There is preventive health care that is provided. They do screenings for cancer, for example.
I am a lawyer, myself; we walked into the courtroom where they have various proceedings, and I've never seen anything like it. I would suggest to you you probably could not go anywhere in the United States, maybe anywhere in the world, and see a courtroom this well equipped.
Final thing I would say is that if you were to identify some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world and make the top 25 list, a lot of them are right there at Guantanamo. If you were to close Guantanamo and move these people somewhere in the United States, you could not duplicate what is available there. I would suggest to you that they would receive worse treatment than they are receiving at Guantanamo.
Our system is just simply not equipped, without an -- a massive infusion of more money, to deal with individual high-risk people scattered throughout the United States. And then if you consolidate them in one place on U.S. soil, again, I think you'd just increase the risk. And again, the cost of duplicating what's at Guantanamo, in my judgment, would be very, very, very expensive. So it was an eye- opening experience. It's remarkable.
I'll wrap up with this thought: I want to express my appreciation for the men and women who are serving there. They are serving with -- in -- very difficult situation, because of the treatment they receive from the detainees. And I don't want to go into detail on that, but it is not good. And yet I found they were enormously professional and enormously committed to doing everything they can to not only provide for security but to care for the rights of these detainees. Thank you.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator Johanns.
And Senator Bennett?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R-UT): Thank you. I, too, have been to Guantanamo, led a codel down there. And I was interested in the reaction of some of the Europeans who were with me. When we held a press conference coming back, they said, "We cannot attend the press conference, because if we told the truth about what we have seen, we would not be allowed back in Europe. The resentment of Guantanamo as a concept in Europe is so high that we don't dare tell our constituents how well it is managed and how well these people are treated."
I want to focus on who is there, not the facilities. Senator Johanns has described that in good detail.
Who is there, and what are their motives?
And when I was there, there had just been an incident, which I had ready about only in the slightest way in the United States press, so I got the details of what went into this incident. And "incident" is too small a term for it. Without giving you all of the details of it, it consisted of a conspiracy among the detainees that had gone on for months -- because it took months not only to plan, but to get themselves in place to carry out, in terms of getting privileges that would come to them only if they complied with certain requirements and then used those privileges to be in close proximity to other constituents -- or other detainees in a circumstance where they could carry out their plan. It had to have been carefully, carefully drawn up, and then painstakingly executed over a period of many months.
Here's what happened. They gathered themselves in a room that was available to those that had the record of the highest level of compliance so that they had demonstrated that they were the most compliant with the rules of the prison. They somehow got some kind of material that they could put over the windows, so for a brief period of time no one could see what they were doing.
What they were doing is going into the light fixtures and pulling out the fluorescent tubes of the light fixtures, which they could use as a weapon. And then, when the guard entered the room, the other thing they had been doing in preparation for the guard was covering the floor with liquids that would make the floor as slippery as possible. And the liquids were not pleasant liquids. Let us just say there were bodily fluids involved.
So when the guard stepped into the room, wondering what was going on, suddenly he was on an uncertain footing where he could slip and fall, and was being attacked by the detainees who had fluorescent light tubes to strike him as a weapon, cut him and hopefully knock him down where they could then kick him and attack him.
Fortunately, he did not lose his footing, and he was able to hold them off until such time as additional guards came in and took care of the problem.
These people have an agenda. And their agenda is to create worldwide resentment against the United States. The one thing they wanted most of all was for one of them to be killed, so that they could say to the world, "You see the kind of brutality the Americans are inflicting on us," to create a circumstance where in order to protect themselves, the guards would fire and one of them would be killed. They knew that they could not get out of Guantanamo unless they did it through the world press and world excitement.
All right. That was taken care of. It was very, very lightly reported in the American press. I didn't know about the details until I got there and talked to some of the people who participated and were involved.
Project now that group of detainees in a typical American prison, dealing with different kinds of guards, dealing with different kinds of routines than those that Secretary Johanns has described. There isn't a prison in the United States that is capable of handling that kind of prisoner. This is not an auto thief. This is not a drug dealer. This is not someone that our present penitentiary system is prepared to handle.
These are people who would like to become suicide bombers, but they would be just as happy to create a riot in a prison even if it means they themselves are killed, because it advances their agenda. They need to be under the most specialized, careful kind of control that we can devise. We have devised it in Guantanamo. And to say, "Well, world public opinion says they don't like it so take them out of this circumstance that we have created and put them willy-nilly in various prisons around the United States" is a huge, huge mistake.
And that's why I'm so gratified by the size of the Senate vote today and the message that it sends, on the part of those who have taken the time to examine this, that closing Guantanamo in a haphazard way is a very, very foolish step for the United States to contemplate.
SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Senator Bennett.
Q I have a question. The timeline of your amendment to actually bar their release for ever and ever -- what is the timeline on that amendment?
SEN. INHOFE: That's on, as you know, the bill that's on the floor. So it's when that goes into effect. I think, more significantly -- because nothing's going to happen between now and then, we know that -- is what happens after this fiscal year is over, which is September 30th. At that time -- that's the reason I said at the beginning of this that I have Senate Bill 370 --
Q That's what I was wondering, the timeline on --
SEN. INHOFE: This has to be done prior to September 30th.
Q A U.S. circuit court judge has ruled that the president does have the authority to indefinitely detain the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, most of them, and without trial. Do any of you have a reaction to that ruling, which apparently has come last night --
SEN. INHOFE: (Aside.) Do you want to answer -- well, first of all, the -- you mean that the president can do that today, now?
SEN. INHOFE: And detain them in -- in Guantanamo?
Q Based on war powers given to him by the Congress after 9/11.
SEN. INHOFE: Oh, I think -- yes, I think he has that power. I don't think that's the problem, though, because I think he's doing everything he can to close Guantanamo as it is and that doesn't give him any more leverage to reach that goal, that stated goal that he has.
I want to elaborate a little bit on something that Senator Johanns said. I was thinking in somewhat of a humorous vein that we -- you talk about all the medical help that's out there for these guys. They didn't -- they don't know what to do with it. They're offering -- anyone, any detainee over 55 has an opportunity to have a colonoscopy. Now, none of them take them up on it, because when they explain what it is, they don't want to do it.
But nonetheless, those are opportunities that they have there -- (chuckles) -- in addition to better health and better -- better care and better food than they've ever had before.
Q Senator, would you oppose the detainees being kept, for instance, in military prisons?
SEN. INHOFE: Oh, absolutely, yes, and let me tell you why. One of these 17 military incarceration areas is in my state of Oklahoma. It is in Fort Sill. As soon as I heard that, I went down to Fort Sill. There's a young lady who's the sergeant major. Her name is "Carter," and she'd love to hear from you.
She said, "Senator, I don't understand. We can't take them down here, because we have -- we cannot intermingle these terrorists with other prisoners that are down here. We're not set up to do it. We don't have any kind of an expeditionary legal complex, like they do at Guantanamo Bay." She said, "Besides that, I was stationed twice -- I did two stretches for a year each in Guantanamo Bay." She said, "That is perfect. They get better treatment there. It's better suited for it. And so it just would not fit in."
And besides that, there's another problem, too. And that is, 27 legislatures have passed resolutions saying, "We don't want them in our state. We won't accept them in our state."
Q Senator Inhofe, it appears that you won a permanent solution to this with your bill, but you would have to come back to -- (off mike) -- every time they have appropriations.
SEN. INHOFE: No. No. This bill would -- this would be in law. This is not going to be tied to an appropriations bill.
Q The process -- (off mike) -- by another Congress.
SEN. INHOFE: Oh, it could, yeah. Yeah, that's --
Q There's no such thing as a permanent solution.
SEN. INHOFE: Well, that could be said about anything that goes on in Washington, I guess. (Chuckles.)
Q But just that you -- as the detainees are transferred to other countries, if that can happen, there would be mounting pressure to maybe propose that at some point in time -- let's say, in five years.
SEN. INHOFE: I would say that the likelihood is almost non- existent that that could happen. And the reason I say that is because these countries -- they've made a real effort to get countries to reintegrate these people back into the countries.
And one of the problems -- some of the people, the far left, have realized that if they go back to some of these countries, they'll be treated -- they'll be tortured. They'll be treated in a very bad way. And so they don't want to say anything good about Guantanamo, but they don't want them back. I think their rejection of taking them back is a permanent rejection.
Thank you very much.