WASHINGTON - A group of 145 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Bush on Friday urging him to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and move the detainees there to military prisons in the United States.
“The closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay would represent a positive first step toward restoring our international reputation as the leader of democracy and individual rights,” the letter said.
The House members, all but one of them Democrats, also called for restoring Guantanamo prisoners’ right to challenge their detention in court. “This will allow for the implementation of fair and transparent trials to bring enemies of our country to justice,” they wrote. The lone Republican was Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina.
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the letter was received and noted that Bush has said he wants to close Guantanamo. “A number of steps need to take place before that can happen, and we’re continuing to work on those,” she said.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Friday that the biggest challenge was finding a legal basis for holding prisoners who shouldn’t be released because they’re dangerous but might not be able to be put on trial because evidence against them fell short of what trial courts required.
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to review whether the detainees should be able to go to federal court to challenge their confinement. Congress passed a law last year that removed the ability of courts to hear detainees’ challenges. Under the law, the detainees receive hearings before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which determines whether they’re enemy combatants. The hearings allow the government to use evidence that is secret or obtained by coercive interrogation methods.
Larry Cox, the director of the human-rights group Amnesty International, said in a statement Thursday that the detainees should be tried in federal courts. He said the military commissions system was a “made-up judicial structure lacking fundamental due process protections.”
The White House has been considering closing the prison at Guantanamo and transferring the detainees. About 375 prisoners are at the facility, and many of them have been there for more than five years. Few have been charged with crimes. Most are held because they’ve been determined to be security threats to the United States.
The letter argued that the facility has undermined the image of the United States as a “model of justice and protector of human rights around the world.”
“Holding prisoners for an indefinite period of time, without charging them with a crime goes against our values, ideals and principles as a nation governed by the rule of law,” the letter said. It argued that allegations of torture and of the indefinite detention of innocent men have hurt America’s credibility.
The letter also argued that the operation of Guantanamo threatens the safety of Americans detained abroad.
"Guantanamo is anathema to our values as a nation, governed by the rule of law," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va., who wrote the letter and collected signatures. "Its continued operation undermines our efforts to combat terrorism, providing psychological ammunition for those bent on doing us harm.”
The House previously passed a defense policy bill that includes an amendment by Moran that would require the Defense Department to plan for transferring the detainees. Officials have said that U.S. military brigs at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Charleston, S.C., could hold the detainees while they await trial or transfer to their countries of origin.
The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Abercrombie, Ackerman, Allen, Andrews, Arcuri, Baldwin, Becerra, S. Bishop, T. Bishop, Blumenauer, Bordallo, Boucher, R. Brady, Braley, C. Brown, Capps, Capuano, Carson, Christensen, Clarke, Clay, Cleaver, Clyburn, Cohen, Conyers, Courtney, Crowley, Cummings, Danny Davis, DeFazio, DeGette, Delahunt, DeLauro, Dicks, Doggett, Doyle, Ellison, Emanuel, Eshoo, Farr, Fattah, Filner, Frank, Giffords, Gonzalez, Grijalva, Gutierrez, J. Hall, Hare, Harman, Higgins, Hinchey, Hirono, Hodes, Holt, Honda, Hoyer, Inslee, Israel, Jackson-Lee, Jefferson, E.B. Johnson, H. Johnson, J. Jones, W. Jones (R), Kagen, Kanjorski, Kaptur, Kennedy, Kildee, Kilpatrick, Kind, Kucinich, Lantos, Larson, Larsen; Lee, Levin, John Lewis, Loebsack, Lofgren, Lowey, Maloney, Markey, C. McCarthy, McCollum, McDermott, McGovern, Meehan, Meeks, Michaud, George Miller, G. Moore, C. Murphy, Nadler, Napolitano, Neal, Norton, Oberstar, Obey, Olver, Pallone, Pascrell, Pastor, Payne, Perlmutter, D. Price, Rahall, Rangel, Rothman, Roybal-Allard, Ryan, Linda Sanchez, Schakowsky, Schiff, Schwartz, D. Scott, R. Scott, Serrano, Shea-Porter, Sires, Slaughter, Solis, Stark, Sutton, B. Thompson, M. Thompson, Tierney, Towns, M. Udall, T. Udall, Van Hollen, Velazquez, Visclosky, Walz, Waters, Watson, Waxman, Weiner, Welch, Wexler, Woolsey, Wu, Wynn.
June 29, 2007
President George W. Bush The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Recent reports in the media have suggested that your administration is now considering reversing its position to keep open the detention facilities at Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). If accurate, we applaud the decision.
Since the time that captured "enemy combatants" were first brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, the detainment facility has undermined America's image as the model of justice and protector of human rights around the world. Holding prisoners for an indefinite period of time, without charging them with a crime goes against our values, ideals and principles as a nation governed by the rule of law. Further, Guantanamo Bay has a become a liability in the broader global war on terror, as allegations of torture, the indefinite detention of innocent men, and international objections to the treatment of enemy combatants has hurt our credibility as the beacon for freedom and justice. Its continued operation also threatens the safety of U.S. citizens and military personnel detained abroad.
The House-passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1585) included a provision requiring the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay. United States military barracks have the capability to provide for the secure detainment of foreign nationals while ensuring the safety of communities within their proximate geographic location. Further, the military locations afford on-site access to military courtrooms for the timely adjudication of all legal proceedings.
The closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay would represent a positive first step toward restoring our international reputation as the leader of democracy and individual rights. We also feel that it is necessary to restore the right of habeas corpus to the detainees. This will allow for the implementation of fair and transparent trials to bring enemies of our country to justice.
The global war on terror cannot be won through military might alone. It is a war of ideas and philosophies. A liability of our own creation, the existence of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay is defeating our effort to ensure that the principles of freedom, justice and human rights are spread throughout the world.
We look forward to working with you on what we hope is a shared objective to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.