A group of retired military leaders Tuesday accused critics of the Obama administration's plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and several Republican congressman, of demagoguery and fear-mongering.
The group, which included retired generals and admirals, said it is actually more dangerous for Americans to leave Guantanamo open than to bring detainees to the U.S. for incarceration and trial.
Retired Brig. Gen. James P. Cullen, who served in the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General's Corps, dismissed as "a myth" the notion that Guantanamo detainees brought to the U.S. to face trial could escape prison and endanger Americans.
"Trade that off against the real danger to our security by leaving Guantanamo open. Guantanamo has served to recruit far more terrorists than it has ever contained," Gen. Cullen said. "That's the real threat. And by making all these false arguments and distractions, we are ignoring what is the real threat by keeping that place open."
Gen. Cullen was one of six retired military leaders who spoke with The Washington Times during an interview arranged by Human Rights First, a group with which the leaders are all affiliated. They were among the group of military leaders who lobbied candidates in last year's presidential election to close Guantanamo and were with President Obama when he signed the executive order to close the prison.
The leaders came to Washington to beat back what they termed misinformation about the closing of Guantanamo, and to meet with military and administration officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Mr. Holder was tapped by Mr. Obama to lead a task force to determine what should happen to the detainees at Guantanamo, where about 220 detainees remain.
"We were very heartened at what we heard," said retired Lt. Gen. Charles Otstott, who served 32 years in the Army. "They seem to have made a great deal of progress, it's a very detailed, interagency process."
Gen. Otstott said they were informed that the task force has already conducted one review of the circumstances surrounding the detention of every detainee remaining at Guantanamo. The task force has already determined in most detainees' cases whether to prosecute or transfer to another country.
He said the task force is conducting a second review of cases for a little less than half the detainees whose cases are tougher to decide. Gen. Otstott said Justice Department officials told them the second review should be completed in November.
"It is a huge recruiting tool for the enemy, and the best thing we can do for national security is to close that place, dispose of the prisoners in a method in accordance with our rule of law and get on with life without Guantanamo," he said. "True a small minority returned to the battle, that's the way it goes. We can take that risk because we're strong, but to hold that many people for that long is, in my personal view, a crime against humanity."
The other four retired flag officers who spoke to The Times are Rear Adm. Don Guter, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Brig. Gen. David Irvine and Vice Adm. Lee Gunn.
Among those singled out for criticism by the retired military leaders was Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Mr. Hoekstra said he opposes closing the prison and a potential plan to transfer detainees to a prison in his home state. He said the retired military leaders "are the ones engaged in name-calling, this is just an honest disagreement about a public policy issue."
Mr. Hoekstra said the Obama administration has lacked transparency in not releasing information about the detainees who could be transferred to prisons in the U.S. He dismissed as naive the assertion that closing Guantanamo will take away al Qaeda's greatest recruiting tool.
"They use lots of things to recruit: our support of Israel, our presence in Iraq, our presence in Afghanistan," he told The Times. "I see no reason to close Gitmo. We built a brand new facility for them and there was a reason we picked it: it's hard to get to."