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EDITORIAL: Detaining Defense nominees

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kansas Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts are blocking 10 nominees for senior posts at the Pentagon and Justice Department. The hold is intended to protest the administration's proposal to send terrorist detainees currently held at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Fort Leavenworth prison in the Jayhawk state. We agree that detainees should not be held on American soil, but this is the wrong way to keep Kansas or the country safe.

We sympathize with the Kansas senatorial delegation's frustrations. They were not briefed in advance about the Leavenworth plan and only learned about it from press reports. They have said that the hold will remain in place until the White House answers a series of questions about the proposal, including who was on the task force that came up with the plan, what other sites were considered, an estimation of the cost to upgrade the facilities, background information on the detainees to be sent there, and a number of other details. They may have a long wait; we have serious doubts that these answers currently exist.

The Obama administration tends to be long on vision but short on details. National Security Adviser James L. Jones said on Sunday that he is convinced the administration will meet its January 2010 deadline to close the Guantanamo facility, but there is still no comprehensive plan for doing so. Instead, we have seen a trial balloon regatta in which proposals are launched then pulled back when they run into turbulence. The detailed list of queries the senators produced does draw attention to the ad hoc nature of the administration's approach to the detainee question.

It would be a mistake to move detainees currently held at Guantanamo to Kansas, or anywhere in the United States. The facility in Cuba has many practical advantages. It has been paid for and has been operating efficiently for years. There have been no reasonable objections to the quality of the facilities, food services or medical care. Interrogation policies not supported by the administration have been changed. There are significant legal complications to moving the detainees to locations inside the United States, as well as important security concerns. Plus, the detainees are already at Guantanamo. We see no reason to rush to meet an arbitrary deadline to put them someplace else, at great cost and greater risk.

Our disagreement with Mr. Brownback and Mr. Roberts is not the message but their means of delivering it. Detaining nominees to top Defense posts does not make the country safer. The most senior nominee in limbo is Rep. John M. McHugh, New York Republican, who is slated to be the next secretary of the Army. Also blocked are Joseph Westphal, who is up for undersecretary of the Army, and Juan Garcia as assistant secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). The hold effectively pushes back these confirmations until Congress reconvenes in early September.

There is no reason to believe these nominees wouldn't have been confirmed otherwise. Denying their talents to a nation at war is not the right way for senators to register discontent with President Obama's policy direction.