Republican lawmakers on Wednesday suggested that recent terrorist attacks in Europe might persuade U.S. allies to change their minds about the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.
His comments at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing came as officials from the State Department and the Pentagon pushed back on criticism of President Obama's plan to close the infamous facility.
The two officials said European allies constantly press the United States to close Guantánamo because of its propaganda value to terrorists.
“Continuously, countries across the world and allies tell us that Gitmo hurts us,” said Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy. “By closing Gitmo, we address the concerns of the rest of the world. The United States needs to lead. We can’t do this alone, and when our allies in counterterrorism are telling us that Gitmo needs to be closed, we take an issue off the table. We don’t remove the risk completely.”
The special envoys for Guantánamo closure defended the administration's plan one day after a terrorist attack rocked Brussels and killed at least 34 people.
That attack, coupled with the November Paris attacks, might force allies to change their positions, multiple Republicans said.
“Isn’t there a chance they would change their positions with respect to Gitmo in light of recent events?” Rep. Ted YohoTed YohoBipartisan push grows for new war authorization The Hill's Whip List: 21 GOP no votes on new ObamaCare replacement bill The ‘zero-for-zero' policy on sugar could be a roadmap forward for the US on trade MORE (R-Fla.) asked.
Europeans’ view of Guantánamo has been consistent, Lewis replied.
“It’s been a continuing position they want Gitmo closed, that our leadership and the Bush administration leadership said that the cost of Gitmo outweigh the benefits,” Lewis said.
Terrorist attacks have continued with Guantánamo open, added Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy.
“I would point out that obviously our hearts go out to the people of Belgium today, and our heart went out to the people of Paris just a few short months ago, but the continued maintenance of the facility at Guantánamo Bay did not prevent either of those attacks,” he said. “There are unfortunately going to be acts of terrorism, probably whether the facility is opened or closed. The proper analysis is what are the risks of keeping it open in light of the very obvious use of that facility as a propaganda tool, which frankly you should not have to question.”
Lewis and Wolosky also pushed back on criticism centered on transfers of detainees abroad and the recidivism rate of those former captives.
Republicans are specifically concerned with transfers to Ghana, which has taken two detainees, and Uruguay, which has taken six.
“Their leaders have many, many challenges facing them in Ghana every day, so I’m going to guess that tracking and monitoring former Guantánamo detainees isn’t a priority, just as it wasn’t in other examples that I’ve laid out for you, like Uruguay,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee.
Royce cited a 30 percent rate of former detainees who are confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorism — a figure referring to all detainees released by both President George W. Bush and Obama — as cause for concern.
Lee and Wolosky cited the percentage under just Obama — 4.9 percent confirmed and 8.3 percent suspected — as evidence that the administration’s process of deciding whom to transfer is working.
One high-profile case cited by Republicans — Ibrahim al Qosi, who has reportedly become a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after being sent to his home country of Sudan — was only released after serving a sentence handed down by a military commission, Wolosky added, in a rebuff to Republicans who champion the commissions over federal court.
“If he were put through the Article III system,” he said, referring to federal court, “he would probably still be serving his sentence and not be off doing what he’s been doing.”