Pompeo: Closing Guantanamo bad for intelligence, troop morale

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) questioned Thursday whether President Obama would follow this year’s defense policy bill’s continuing ban on bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.

“We’ve seen many cases where the president has stared at a statute and said, ‘That’s interesting,” and continued to take the action he sought as being appropriate,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo made his remarks during a discussion with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s annual forum. In addition to Guantanamo, the conversation touched on the Russia’s actions in Syria, among a wide variety of national security topics.

Members of the House are set to vote Thursday on the National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other provisions, would keep in place the ban on transferring detainees to the United States. The provision is expected to keep the Guantanamo Bay military facility open another year.

Should Obama sidestep that provision and close Guantanamo, Pompeo said, there could be implications for the United States’ intelligence gathering operations, as well as on forces’ motivation to find terrorists.

“Imagine you find them, then what?” he said. “If you’re part of the team that is tasked with conducting the operation to go find these folks, where does the incentive go to go execute that mission? Because when you’re finished your option is so limited – a bullet to their head or shipped to an eastern district of Virginia. Neither of which garners the intelligence we need to take these networks down.”

Mukasey, who served under President George W. Bush, also warned that holding detainees stateside has the potential to mean they will be released into the United States.

“At some point they’re going to come up with a federal judge – having been one, I will tell you they will find one – who will let one or more of them out,” Mukasey said.

In regards to Russia, Pompeo said the intelligence community is working hard to determine exactly what the country’s goals are in Syria. But, he said, it’s clear Russia’s mission isn’t to defeat ISIS.

“That is a fundamentally false narrative,” he said.

Instead, Pompeo suggested, Russia is trying to establish a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean. If that’s the case, he said, the Obama administration’s reaction thus far, particularly meetings with Russian counterparts to de-conflict airspace, is inadequate.

Putin is “heck bent on changing the geopolitical future,” Pompeo said. “Our secretary of state calls a meeting to deconflict airspace when the Russians attack in the Middle East. That’s a remarkable change from whether it was Eisenhower – but you don’t have to go to a Republican. It was a change from consistent U.S. policy – Democrat and Republican presidents, alike – that said that the Soviets and now Russians will not have a foothold.”

Tags Guantánamo Bay Mike Pompeo Russia Syria

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