Petraeus, Guantánamo

Retired four-star Gen. David Petraeus has carefully initiated his return to the public arena. This is good news for all who are concerned with America’s national security. Petraeus made a significant mistake. He has taken responsibility for it. He has apologized to his family and the nation and now has much to offer in the service of our country. The sooner he is given this opportunity, the better.

Today the defense budget is destabilized and the well-being of those who serve is endangered by the mismanagement of budgetary matters throughout official Washington. It is irrational and unconscionable that those who risk the most to defend America are among those who are endangered the most by the current budget practices of America. It is equally irrational and unconscionable that for more than 10 years, the Guantánamo detention center has been the world’s most expensive prison, draining vast sums of taxpayer dollars, providing an effective recruitment tool for our most deadly enemies, diverting the attention and resources of our highly stressed armed forces and creating great concern from our military commanders and our most loyal democratic allies throughout the world.

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My advice to President Obama would be to consider asking Petraeus to lead a bipartisan task force aiming to accomplish the mission of either dramatically downsizing the Guantánamo detention center to detain only the 15 to 20 remaining high-value detainees, or — even better — closing it entirely.

What better way for Petraeus to reenter the public arena than by spearheading an important project that would win support throughout our service branches and across the spectrum of our democratic allies, while freeing up significant money that would help reduce the deficit or that could be redirected to critical and under-funded defense programs that are essential to the men and women who serve?

This project would require congressional approval, a bipartisan spirit and the participation of both parties in Congress, including key Republicans with military experience, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who share great confidence in Petraeus.

Considering the annual cost of continuing Guantánamo as it now exists, plus the projected cost of renovations needed to improve conditions for guards and troops, the savings from this proposal could total $200 million to $300 million over 2-3 years. The Department of Defense, the House and Senate Armed Services committees, congressional leaders and the bipartisan task force should consider options about how budget savings from closing Guantánamo could be re-allocated.

Petraeus would be ideal to spearhead the mission of dramatically downsizing or closing Guantánamo. He is a retired four-star general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He has commanded the Central Command and our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus has served at the epicenter of our military and intelligence programs to protect America from our most deadly enemies. He has unparalleled credibility and experience on all facets of the Guantánamo issue, including tactical and strategic military and intelligence matters, conventional warfare and counterinsurgency warfare actions, knowledge on the Geneva Convention and respect for human rights.

It is time to resolve the Guantánamo matter. It wastes our money, erodes our reputation, helps recruitment for our enemies, ill-serves our military and violates our values. Petraeus is the right man to spearhead this long overdue mission.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

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