GOP's Chambliss: Obama speech will be 'viewed by terrorists as victory'

The senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said President Obama's national security speech will be "viewed by terrorists as a victory."

Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissOssoff tests waters for Georgia Senate run CIA's ‘surveillance state’ is operating against us all Juan Williams: GOP plays the bigotry card in midterms MORE (Ga.) made the remarks in a statement released moments after Obama's speech. He focused his criticism on Obama's plans to move toward closing the Guantanamo Bay detainee camp. 

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"We knew five years ago that closing Guantanamo was a bad idea and would not work," Chambliss said. "Yet, today’s speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen."

Earlier this month, Chambliss — who is not seeking reelection — played a round of golf with Obama.

Pressure has been building on Obama to take steps to close Guantanamo as the 186 prisoners left at the camp have begun a hunger strike. Obama promised to close Guantánamo in his first days of office, but his efforts failed on Capitol Hill and the president's efforts have faded.

On Thursday, Obama laid out a plan to move toward closing the prison by lifting a ban on sending cleared Guantánamo detainees from Yemen back to that country.


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Fifty-six of the 166 detainees at the prison are from Yemen and have been cleared for release. Obama suspended transfers to Yemen during his first-term, and Congress has placed additional restrictions that require the administration only to transfer detainees after determining it is not a national security risk to do so. 

Even before Obama finished his speech, Republicans had begun criticizing the plan.

“The president may be solving a political problem by these transfers in his own mind, but he’s creating a national security problem for our soldiers and our diplomats,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Overnight Defense: Four Americans killed in Syria suicide attack | State of the Union becomes latest shutdown flashpoint | Missile defense review on track for Thursday release White House condemns 'terror attack' that killed US troops in Syria MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters.

Republicans on Thursday cautioned that sending detainees to Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operates, still carries too great of a security risk, and doing so could allow the detainees to take up arms against the U.S. 

A study from the House Armed Services Committee last year found that about 25 percent of the detainees who were released from Guantánamo under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have re-entered the fight. 

“I’m very concerned about the transfer of people back to Yemen,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainScience group seeks to draft Mark Kelly for 2020 Arizona Senate race Trump is right: Walls work on the southern border How news media omissions distort Russia probe narrative ... and shield Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.), who supports closing Guantánamo. “We don’t want them to go back into the fight. The fact is about 20 percent of them went back into the fight.” 

Many Democrats have urged Obama to re-start the process for releasing cleared detainees at Gitmo. They say that doing so will demonstrate the president’s commitment to closing the prison and help generate momentum to win over skeptical lawmakers that the prison should ultimately be shuttered. 

But many Republicans have resisted those calls, saying the prison is a key tool to detain terrorists who cannot face a trial. 

Some lawmakers have complained that the Obama administration detention policy makes it easier for them to kill terrorists abroad than capture them. 

“On Guantánamo, it is shameful that they would take an asset that is extremely valuable and just because a certain element of the liberal constituency out there is opposed to it, to not use this asset,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion' Overnight Defense: Senators say questions remain after Syria briefing | Trump inches closer to declaring emergency to build wall | Air Force accepts Boeing tankers despite flaws Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Graham said he would be open to conversations about closing Guantánamo if the president was willing to create a system where detainees could be tried through a military commission system in the U.S. 

 “The president seems to be going backward when it comes to using law of war detention,” Graham said. “I would be willing to look at any plan he can come up with to move the facility to a new location. My red lines are it has to be a law of war regime around the new detention system,” he said, which referred to a system where some detainees would be sent to a military commission and some to a federal court. 

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that to close Guantánamo, he wants to know “what the president intends to do with those terrorist detainees who are too dangerous to release but cannot be tried; how he will ensure terrorists transferred overseas do not return to the fight, and what he will do with terrorists we will capture in the future.”