Lawmakers return from Gitmo

Five senators and 16 House members returned yesterday from separate weekend visits to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 500 suspected Islamic terrorists are being held, agreeing that no prisoners are being mistreated but still divided on whether it should be closed.

“It was really an eye-opening experience,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told The Hill. “We found a well-run and well-organized camp. Everything we heard previously was negative, but what we saw was much different from what we had heard and read about.”

Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee who toured the camp on Sunday with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenScrutiny ramps up over Commerce secretary's stock moves Hillicon Valley: Justices require warrants for cellphone location data | Amazon employees protest facial recognition tech sales | Uber driver in fatal crash was streaming Hulu | SpaceX gets contract to launch spy satellite On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Supreme Court allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers | Judge finds consumer bureau structure unconstitutional | Banks clear Fed stress tests MORE (D-Ore.), said he concluded that, “while there may have been some inappropriate [interrogation] efforts in the past, they are not ongoing, and closing the prison is not one of the things we should pursue.”

Two House Democrats who were among 16 members of the House Armed Services Committee who toured the prison in sweltering heat on Saturday, Reps. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Live coverage: Justice IG testifies before House on report criticizing FBI Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry MORE (D-Texas), agreed that prisoners are no being mistreated, but said charges of abuse at the prison still harms America’s image at home and abroad.

Although Tauscher told the Associated Press that Guantanamo “has become a lightning rod” for anti-American feeling, she said, “The Guantanamo we saw today is not the Guantanamo we heard about a few years ago.” 

And  while Jackson Lee said she still believes the $110 million facility, which costs $95 million a year to operate, should be closed, she added, “What we’ve seen here is evidence that we’ve made progress.”

However, Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), said charges that U.S. interrogators abused and tortured prisoners were nothing more than “wild accusations” designed to hurt the United States. He also questioned whether the criteria for releasing a detainee is too liberal, saying that some who have been released have returned to fight in Iraq.

And Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who toured the prison Sunday with Sens. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border All the times Horowitz contradicted Wray — but nobody seemed to notice Senate Dems want watchdog to probe if SEC official tried to pressure bank on gun policies MORE (R-Wyo.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs Overnight Finance: Senators introduce bill to curb Trump's tariff authority | McConnell calls it 'exercise in futility' | Kudlow warns WTO won't dictate policy | Mulvaney feud with consumer advocates deepens MORE (R-Ga.), but separately from Nelson and Wyden, said in a floor speech yesterday that prisoners were being well-treated.

“Throughout the entire detention camp, terrorists were given clothes and bedding. They are given Muslim prayer rugs and Korans. There are arrows everywhere pointing them to Mecca. We even witnessed a prayer call announcing to the terrorists that it was time for them to turn to Mecca and pray.”

Both Bunning and Nelson pointed out that a part of the prison called Camp Xray, scene of the alleged abuses reported in the media, has been closed since 2002 and new facilities have been and are being built.

“They have come a long way from concrete slabs surrounded by chain-link fencing,” he said. “But the new camps are significantly better. They offer the terrorists more privacy, space and protection from the weather. They offer the terrorists areas for recreation. Some even have air conditioning and semi-private showers.”

He added, “Of course the detainees are not living in luxury. But these are dangerous killers we are talking about. … But as long as they are a danger to Americans, we must continue to hold them and gather information.”

In an obvious reference to Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Immigration drama grips Washington Senate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration MORE’s (D-Ill.) widely criticized comments about Guantanamo, Bunning said the prisoners’ treatment “is a far cry from the repressive regimes that critics of Guantanamo have compared out military to. Did the Nazis respect the Jewish faith? Did Stalin and Pol Pot practice religious tolerance? Absolutely not.”

The lawmakers were given a classified briefing by base commanders, and accompanied by military escorts throughout their visit.