By Peter Urban
After spending a day at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Rep. Tim Griffin said Tuesday that it should remain open despite President Barack Obama's two-year-old call for it to be shuttered.
"The detainees are on the end of an island in the Caribbean. I'd rather than them there than in Jacksonville, Arkansas," said Griffin, R-Little Rock.
Griffin and other members of the House Armed Services Committee spent Monday at the facility. Republican committee members held a news conference Tuesday where they opposed shutting the facility and moving detainees to federal prisons.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the committee, said it would be "fiscally and morally irresponsible" to shutter the facility, saying it is the safest place to house suspected terrorists.
Griffin said the remaining detainees are dangerous "high value detainees" and moving them to a federal prison would create a new domestic target for al Qaeda terrorists.
Obama issued an executive order nearly two years ago calling for the detention facility to be closed in order to restore standards of due process and constitutional values lost over complaints of torture and indefinite detention.
Congress, however, has voted to block the closing. Most recently, it included language in a defense authorization bill that prevents detainees from being transferred to mainland facilities.
Earlier this month, Obama signed that bill into law but issued a statement opposing the Guantanamo restrictions.
At a news conference before Christmas, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to closing the detention facility saying it remains a powerful symbol that al Qaeda uses to recruit young terrorists.
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, said the detention facility represents a "terrible legacy" of holding suspected terrorists without due process and of torture and abuse.
"As a result, it remains a big problem for the United States. It makes it harder for us to gain security cooperation from other countries and to convince other countries to abide by human rights laws," he said.
Anders also disputed claims that moving the 173 remaining detainees to a federal U.S. prison would pose a national security threat. The Bush administration labeled 16 of them as "high value" and the Obama administration isn't expected to prosecute more than a couple dozen of the others, Anders said.