Press Conference With Rep. John A. Boehner - Keep Terrorists Out Of America Act

Press Conference

By:  Pete King Eric Cantor Pete Hoekstra Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Lamar Smith John Boehner John McHugh
Date: May 7, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

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REP. BOEHNER: The world suddenly did not become safer on January 20th, 2009. There are still terrorists around the world who are committed to killing Americans and destroying our way of life. A number of those terrorists are now being held at a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And the -- in January of next year, the -- if the administration proceeds with our current plan, they won't be there. In fact, they may be here in the United States.

The administration's political decision to close this prison begs an important question: What is the administration's overarching plan for defeating the terrorist threat? And where do they plan to put these terrorists?

Today we're introducing legislation to ensure that they're not imported into the United States.

We invite our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us, because our constituents don't want these terrorists in their neighborhoods.

I turn it over to -- yeah, go ahead.

REP. JOHN MCHUGH (R-NY): Good morning. Yes, good morning. I'm John McHugh, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, 23rd District of New York.

As the leader noted, this is an important piece of legislation. I want to begin by thanking our leadership -- Leader Boehner, Mr. Pence and really all of our leaders collectively -- for providing the impetus and the support for this, and particularly my distinguished fellow ranking members, who have been so instrumental in the development of this piece of legislation.

As the leader said, the calendar didn't change the realities on the ground. And for all of the good intentions this current administration's efforts may be, the fact of the matter is, the American people are still at risk.

For all the shortages the previous administration's terrorist detention policies may have had -- and I think most of us could agree those shortcomings were several -- it did at least set a policy. It did provide a process by which the American people were placed beyond the deadly reach of some of the most dangerous terrorists that have ever walked the face of the earth. And that shield is gone. What it has been replaced by is uncertainty and doubt, and that's where this legislation is so critical. It is at a minimum, in our judgment, a replacement of that lack of security with a process that can be viewed and respected. And it is the minimum we as a Congress, we as a government, owe the great American people.

I want to be clear. Nothing in this legislation precludes the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention facilities. That's not the intent of this bill. That's not our direction in this legislation. But what it is, is a process by which the American people can be assured that any detainees transferred or released into their states -- more importantly, into their neighborhoods -- will recognize there has been a process, there has been a series of certifications and careful review, something that does not now exist.

I just want to touch the three major components -- sections of the bill -- for you, to define them. And of course, I expect major questions may come, and we can fill in those blanks.

The first section makes it very clear that as a Congress -- and I would say at this moment, as a minority -- the Republicans in the House of Representatives believe very strongly no detainee -- no detainee -- should be transferred or released into the United States. However, the next two sections speak to a process that, should those events occur, have to be followed.

The first is something that my good friend and former chairman on the Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, was so helpful in developing, and that is the development of a state, and state legislative, certification.

Sixty days before any release can occur, the president of the United States must provide to the governor and to the state legislature of the state in which those transfers or releases may occur the certification as to how the judgment was reached, what security arrangements have been made, and why this is a valid -- valid action.

Second, part of the certification in the third component of the bill requires the president to issue a series of 12 certifications to the United States Congress, everything from the name of the detainee to the exact location of where the release will occur, what were the mitigating circumstances, what are the inherent risks of that, and on and on and on.

In its simplest terms, this bill requires a conversation with the American people as to why these releases or detentions are proper, and what we are doing as a nation to assure that and keep them safe.

Last point. This week, Secretary Gates completed a tour of the Middle East. One of his last stops was in Saudi Arabia, where he talked to the Saudis about them receiving 100 Yemeni detainees into their terrorist rehabilitation program. As you look across the globe, whether in the Middle East or many of our allies in Europe, every people, every nation has been talked to except the American people. That's wrong, and this bill is intended to fix that.

REP. HOEKSTRA: Thank you.

And these are dangerous people. On the Intel Committee, we've had an up front and close and personal look at these individuals for the last number of years. We see it, but the interesting thing is, you know, we did an informal, unscientific poll on a telephone town hall meeting recently. Over 400 people responded. More than 75 percent of them thought it was a mistake to close Guantanamo. Just got a comment into our office in the last couple of days, "I support banning the Gitmo detainees from being brought into the United States because they will become a threat to American citizens. These people are terrorists."

What we're trying to do is we're trying to fill a vacuum. The president has set a goal, but over the last three months he's never put in place a plan to achieve this goal. As much as we are opposed to moving these individuals into the United States, and as much as we see this as being a risk, if the president is going to continue moving in this direction, we need to have a concrete plan that involves the American people.

The only other thing that I would note is that we have released over 500 people from Guantanamo over the last number of years, people that we identified as being lower-risk individuals, and we've identified more than 15 percent of them being back on the battlefield, being a threat to our troops, being a threat to the citizens of those countries.

And those are the ones that we have identified. I think it's safe to assume that we've only identified a portion of the people that have gone back on the battlefield once they have left Guantanamo. These are the kinds of people that the president is talking about moving in -- back into the United States or moving or -- either moving them here, releasing them or detaining them.

They are a risk. Guantanamo was specifically designed for them. It has worked, but, you know, we may be going down a different path. But we need to fill that vacuum. We need a plan that at least provides us a limited degree of confidence that we are minimizing the risk to American citizens and American national security.

Thank you.

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. I'm Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Following up on John McHugh's statement about the international reaction, it's interesting to note that many other nations share our deep concerns about the safety and security of their citizens, about the transfer and the release of the Gitmo detainees into their countries. And they have rejected our U.S. request for assistance in resettlement.

Some allies, such as Australia, have noted that accepting detainees does not meet their stringent national-security requirements. Poland, Czech Republic, Austria -- they've expressed their reluctance of -- outright -- or outright opposition to getting these Gitmo detainees into their countries. And that's certainly understandable.

But just as we can't force other countries to welcome these detainees with open arms into their homelands, neither should we force our citizens and our communities to do so without at least having them have a say on -- in this matter. And that's what this bill does. This allows governors and state legislatures to make that determination as to whether they are capable of and willing to take on the responsibility of accepting these detainees.

That's the right approach, for it gives our citizens the same options as we're giving foreign governments. This is the least that we should do.

Thank you.

REP. KING: I'm Pete King from New York, ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee.

The president made a decision to close Guantanamo, to fulfill a campaign promise, perhaps to satisfy world opinion, without any way thinking through the consequences of his action or what was going to happen next, where these detainees were going to go.

Having been to Guantanamo and just seeing the types of people that are there, the way they abuse the guards, the way they carry on, listening to the people who do have to guard them and just hearing stories of how violent they can be, the thought of having these people coming back to any state in the United States, to me, is absolutely wrong and disgraceful.

Coming from New York, I have a particular concern. There have been reports that a number of these detainees could be brought to the Southern District of New York, to stand trial, which is literally within walking distance of Ground Zero. It's within walking distance of City Hall, within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, police headquarters.

And the thought of having any number of these detainees, from Guantanamo, the security provisions that would require, the risk it would create, and again being literally in the shadow of Ground Zero, I find, not just offensive but also extremely dangerous.

So I am proud to support this legislation. I commend the Republican leadership and especially Congressman McHugh, for the work that he has done on this. And to me, it's -- I oppose the closing of Guantanamo. Whether you do or not, the reality is, we have to realize the terrible consequences that could flow from this decision.

Thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): I'm Lamar Smith, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

And frankly we are here today because the president has insisted on keeping a campaign pledge that endangers American lives. The AG has said that Gitmo is a well-run facility. We are trying to solve an image problem at the expense of American lives.

If the detainees are transferred to the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that they are entitled to some constitutional rights. In fact, the United States already gives these enemy combatants more rights than any other country ever has.

And if they are transferred to the United States, federal courts are very likely -- all you have to do is find one judge -- to give them even more rights. I'll give you a couple of examples.

Under the Fourth Amendment, you have a prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Under the Fifth Amendment, you have a right to remain silent.

That raises a question. What happens to the information you obtain or hear after a terrorist is captured?

Is that going to be admissible or not? And like I say, all you have to do is find one federal judge to say it's inadmissible.

The consequences are dire. If we do not convict a terrorist, then the Supreme Court has ruled we can only detain them for six months. And if other countries will not take these terrorists back -- and we're finding that's the case all over the world -- then we are going to have to release them into our communities after that six- months period. Now, that is not a pleasant thought.

There has been absolutely no transparency to this process, whatsoever. There have been no hearings, no expert witnesses, no reports to Congress. None of the information has been given to the elected representatives, and none of the information has been given to the American people. In fact, foreign countries who we are trying to persuade to take these terrorists have actually been provided with more information than the American people or their elected representatives.

To me, the transfer of detainees to U.S. soil presents a clear and present danger to American lives. All the administration has to do is reconsider. They don't have to keep this inadvisable and mistaken and misguided campaign promise.

Let's do what's best for the American people. Let's come up with other alternatives, rather than transferring these individuals to the United States.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): You know, this is the one area in which -- where I'm going to take a protectionist stance, protection from terrorists. If there was ever a time for protectionism, this is it.

And coming from Virginia, where there are two facilities on the list of potential sites for relocating these terrorists, I am particularly passionate about making sure that the president's desire, and some in this Congress, to bring these enemy combatants to the soil of the United States does not happen. With the communities surrounding naval base Norfolk, and those around Quantico, in their interest, this must not happen.

REP. BOEHNER: Questions?

Q Mr. Boehner, does the Congress have any formal authority to adopt this legislation if the president actually said he wants to do this?

REP. BOEHNER: I think the Congress could pass such a bill -- certainly constitutional and -- and appropriate.

Q Mr. Boehner, does this mean that you agree with Chairman Obey, in the supplemental, that there should not be any money for alternatives to Guantanamo?

REP. BOEHNER: Not only should there not be any money in the supplemental to move these detainees, we ought to make clear that none of these detainees should be brought to the United States until such time as the president has had a conversation with the American people, which is the essence of the bill that we're bringing forward.

Q Leader Boehner, it may well be constitutional for -- (off mike) -- but how is requiring the commander in chief to get the permission of state legislators -- (off mike) -- Constitution?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, would you want your governor and your state legislature to make that decision on behalf of the state in which you live? I think most Americans would.

Q But is that constitutional? I mean, President Bush was saying, you know -- unlimited power as the commander in chief, and the Republican Party said --

REP. BOEHNER: And I think that the Congress can establish such a (procedure ?). I think it's clearly constitutional and within our prerogative.

Q There's been several bills out there on -- there are states that are -- various states, Virginia, Kansas, others, passed bills already introduced. What are you doing to expect to get any traction on this bill now, going forward?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, I think the fact that the Republican leadership here in the House, along with the ranking members of all the relevant committees have worked together to put together what we think is a reasonable bill to help keep Americans safe.

At the end of the day, they fulfilled a campaign promise to close Guantanamo without having any plans in place as to what to do with them. Let's remember, President Bush wanted to close Guantanamo but couldn't quite figure out, what do we do with these dangerous terrorists that are being housed there?

Q What is the risk -- you're talking about -- because we have some of these guys already in American prisons, correct? Am I right about that? Moussaoui's here, right? Are you worried about these guys escaping and getting --

REP. SMITH: My concern is -- that I mentioned awhile ago -- that they are entitled to some constitutional rights, and that federal judges may well find that they're entitled to other constitutional rights, which is going to result in their release into our communities.

I mentioned we had a Supreme Court ruling indicating we cannot detain anyone for more than six months, and then we are required to see if we can transfer them to another country. But we are seeing today how many countries are saying to us, "Well, if they don't present a threat, why don't you keep them yourselves?" And we don't have a good answer to that.

The idea of what we've seen in the last week -- the idea of Uncle Sam going from country to country begging them to take a terrorist or two is slightly embarrassing. You have a couple of countries who said, "Okay, we'll take one." That's clearly symbolic. You have a couple of other countries who've said, "No, thanks. If they're" -- like I said -- "if they're low threat, why don't you keep them yourselves?"

This is no way to run a country. It's no way to fight terrorism. And it's no way to handle our detainees.

(Cross talk.)

Q Well, hang on. I just want to take it off the table. You're not worried about these guys escaping; you're talking about the legal process --

REP. HOEKSTRA: I think he's talked about the legal threat --

REP. SMITH: I'm talking about the legal --

REP. HOEKSTRA: -- legal challenge that you have.

Guantanamo was chosen for a specific reason. It is isolated. It is hard for outside terrorist -- it's hard, if not impossible, for outside terrorist organizations to get to Guantanamo. It is next to impossible for them to identify the Americans that are working at Guantanamo, so they are protected.

That all changes. That all fundamentally changes when you take them off of an island, off and away from Gitmo, and plunk them down in the middle of Michigan, in the middle of Kansas, in the middle of Virginia or in the middle of New York, because at that point in time --

Q (But we keep them all in prison ?) --

REP. HOEKSTRA: What's that?

Q World War II -- we had German prisoners over here. What was the --

REP. HOEKSTRA: World War -- come on. It's night and day.

Q Well, tell me why.

REP. HOEKSTRA: Because in World War II I don't think we expected the -- you know, you didn't have the threat from home-grown terrorism. You didn't have -- remember, these folks successfully attacked us on 9/11. Three thousand Americans died. And the threat -- and the specter of the threat that we face today from radical jihadists is very, very different than the threat that we faced from Germany or Japan in World War II.

Putting these people in the middle of our communities puts those communities at risk and puts the people that work at those facilities at risk because they can be very, very easily identified. It is a total different threat assessment when you are in Gitmo versus when you are in a community in our homeland.

(Cross talk.)

Q Mr. Boehner, the statements coming out of Republicans' offices in reaction to the president's proposed budget cut -- 17 billion (dollars) -- have been fairly critical. What do you see as a -- what's the right number? What would show the administration was seeking tight spending --

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, if you look at a lot of the cuts being proposed today by the administration, they are they same cuts that were proposed by President Bush that Congress -- the Democratic Congress -- chose to ignore.

All I will say is that Eric Cantor's Economic Working Group is -- we're working on real cuts that will save real money and bring down the size of the deficit. And over the next couple of weeks, you'll have a change to see what real budget cuts look like.

(Cross talk.) Thanks.

Q Mr. Boehner, the Uighur Chinese terrorists that may be released into Alexandria next week -- Alexandria, Virginia -- can I get a comment on that? Do you guys know a timeline? Mr. King?

REP. KING: No. In fact --

REP. : It's not your district. (Chuckles.)

REP. KING: Frank Wolf is the one to speak to, but my understanding is, he's been told absolutely nothing by the Justice Department or by Homeland Security or anyone in the administration, and that is part of his very, very legitimate complaint.

Q And do you expect to get any buy-in from Democrats on this plan?

REP. KING: We'll have to see. I hope so.

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