A bipartisan chorus of Capitol Hill lawmakers Sunday called on President Obama to unveil a plan for dealing with the terrorism suspects held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - a campaign promise he has yet to fulfill.
“We’re saying, ‘Mr. President, give us the plan,’ ” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Mrs. Boxer bristled at the notion that the United States wouldn’t be able to safely handle incarcerating Guantanamo’s 240 or so prisoners on U.S. soil.
“We already have 350 terrorists in the United States. So, clearly, we’ve been handling it,” she said. “But, still and all, we are worried, and we want to see what the plan is.”
She added that many of the prisoners may be sent to other countries, or even executed in the United States.
“Maybe we wind up with 10 or 15 or 20 or five - we don’t know yet,” she said.
Conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska agreed it’s time for the president to draft a comprehensive plan for what to do with Guantanamo’s prisoners - as long as they don’t come to the U.S. mainland.
“Once they’re convicted, and assuming they will be, then I think we need to work out with their countries an arrangement where they’re incarcerated there,” Mr. Nelson told “Fox News Sunday.” “Those countries have a responsibility, too.”
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said he doubts the Obama administration would be able to convince the American public that bringing suspected terrorists to the United States wouldn’t compromise national security.
“We realize that there are terrorists in a lot of our prisons that have gone through trials and so forth. They are in maximum-security prisons, but we don’t need these hard-core, some of the worst of the worst, to come to this country,” Mr. Shelby said on “State of the Union.”
“We can do better,” he said.
Mr. Shelby added that there is no reason to discard the prison, after spending $200 million of taxpayer money to build a “state of the art” facility.
“I do believe that we need to evaluate them, and see which ones that we need for long-term detention, which ones need to be turned loose, which ones could be turned loose, but not in America,” Mr. Shelby said.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, agreed, telling “Fox News Sunday” that “there’s nothing wrong with the prison in Gitmo.”
“I don’t know why it is better to have somebody in a so-called ‘supermax’ facility in, say, Colorado than it is to keep them in Guantanamo,” he said. “And there are a lot of problems, as FBI Director [Robert S. Mueller III] pointed out in testimony just [last] week, with bringing those people to the United States.”
But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the administration is working hard to meet the president’s deadline for closing the prison by early 2010, though he concedes there are “very difficult issues” of what to do with the detainees.
“There are some really bad people there,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “So figuring out how we’re going to keep them where they need to be, keep them off the battlefield, as well as close Gitmo itself is a real challenge.”
Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who supports closing the prison, took umbrage with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent criticisms of Mr. Obama for wanting to close the facility, saying that President George W. Bush also wanted it shut down.
“President Bush stated repeatedly to international audiences and to the country that he wanted to close Guantanamo,” Mr. Powell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program.