- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2016

A key congressional Republican engaged in a heated exchange with an Obama administration ally Thursday over the lawmaker’s accusation that top military officers aren’t giving President Obama honest advice about his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for terrorist suspects.

Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Homeland Security oversight subcommittee and an Iraq War veteran, opened the hearing by disputing the administration’s assertion that the Guantanamo closure plan represents “the collective best judgment of the administration’s military and civilian leaders.”

“With all due respect, military leaders that serve in the administration are bound to agree with the commander in chief, right?” said Mr. Perry, a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “The old saying is, ‘Ours is to do and die, ours is not to question why.’ So their credibility in this regard, unfortunately, has to be questioned on this basis if nothing else.”

He added, “The civilian leaders looking to curry favor with the administration are in the same position.”

His commentary drew a rebuke from Ken Gude, a national security specialist at the liberal Center for American Progress, who was invited to testify.

Mr. Gude chastised the lawmaker “that you would so causally impugn the integrity of our military officers … that they would be presenting what is not their full judgment to this administration.”

“I think you owe them an apology,” the witness told Mr. Perry. “I don’t think that you, when you were serving, would be clouding your judgment based on the political imperatives that you felt from your superiors. That kind of comment is indicative of why it is so difficult for us to have a reasoned debate and a reasoned analysis of this issue.”

Mr. Perry shot back, “I don’t owe anybody an apology.” He proceeded to question Mr. Gude’s military credentials.

“Have you ever taken the oath of office to wear the nation’s uniform?” he asked the witness.

Mr. Gude said he had not.

“Then how would you have any idea of the requirements foisted upon individuals that take that oath and things that are said?” Mr. Perry asked. “I will tell you that I have taken the oath, and every single officer that has taken the oath, every single officer, Mr. Gude, understands what I was saying. We serve at the pleasure of the commander in chief, period. We offer our opinions. However, once the commander in chief gives the order, our job is to salute and move out. If you knew that, if you ever took the oath, if you ever wore the uniform, if you ever served, you would know that.”

Mr. Gude replied that prominent Republicans such as retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona all agree that the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed because it harms national security by creating a recruiting tool for extremists.

“You can impugn my credentials all you want, but I think you’ll have a harder time impugning their credentials,” Mr. Gude told Mr. Perry. “Guantanamo is a symbol of torture and abuse that occurred in the Bush administration in that prison and other prisons.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, told the congressional panel that Mr. Obama’s plan to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to a military prison in her state “makes zero sense.”

“Why would anyone want to put terrorists in Charleston?” she asked. “Keep the terrorists where they are. Do not bring them to my home.”

Ms. Haley said the move would likely hurt tourism and economic development in the city. She said her state is still recovering from the mass shooting at a church in Charleston in June.

“You can’t put a cost on fear,” the governor told lawmakers. “We looked at hate in the eye last year. Our state is still recovering from that. There is no cost you can put on that.”

The administration wants to transfer many of the 80 current detainees at Guantanamo to prisons on the U.S. mainland. One of the facilities under consideration is the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston; another is Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Mr. Obama has said the detention facility should be closed because extremist groups use it as a recruiting tool to foment hatred against the U.S. The administration also notes that convicted terrorists are already being held in U.S. prisons.

“The truth is there are dozens of dangerous, convicted terrorists who were on American soil in American prisons right now,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “That doesn’t impose an undue threat to the American people. It doesn’t make any state a target.”

He said the administration will continue to make its case to Congress, which has passed legislation barring the president from transferring Guantanamo detainees to the mainland.

Ms. Haley said terrorists carried out many attacks against the U.S. long before the Guantanamo Bay facility was built.

“Terrorists do not need a jail to hate us,” she said. “They hate us on their own.”

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, urged committee members to “focus on the facts, and not baseless fear.”

“Guantanamo Bay has served its purpose and must be closed,” Mr. Thompson said. “Its continued operation weakens our national security by furthering the recruitment propaganda of violent extremists.”

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