In his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama promised to “keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo” and said “it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.
Guantanamo Bay is a first-rate detention facility that’s kept terrorists off the battlefield and kept America safe. It’s critical role in our national security cannot be overstated.
Early last year, I visited Guantanamo Bay and witnessed prisoner operations. I saw firsthand that it is not the barebones prison camp President Obama purports it to be. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the picture he’s painted for the public.
Guantanamo Bay can be and has been visited repeatedly by the International Red Cross and other human-rights groups for observation in an open, regular, and transparent manner. Detainees receive the same medical care as the guard force and are able to participate in their daily prayer sessions.
Guantanamo Bay is also a critical tool in our counterterrorism efforts. It is secure from attack and allows us to concentrate trained experts in interrogation in one place, to extract intelligence of paramount importance in uncovering and stopping plots against Americans.
Information obtained from detainees at Guantanamo has been described by the CIA as "the lead information" that enabled the agency to recognize the importance of a courier for Usama bin Laden, a crucial understanding that lead to Bin Laden's secret hideout in Pakistan and the U.S. raid that killed him. It is this kind of information that we are losing by not making greater use of Guantanamo.
Additionally, take for example what’s happened to those “detainees” who have been released from Guantanamo Bay.
In 2007, the U.S. released Mullah Abdul Rauf, a former Taliban commander who claimed to have been a simple bread deliveryman. In the interim, he has reestablished himself as a warlord in southern Afghanistan-- one who pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State-- and led a group of insurgent fighters.Earlier this year, U.S. forces had to face him again. Thankfully, they killed him.
Rauf is just one example amidst many. Over 650 detainees have been released from Guantanamo, with 196 being confirmed or suspected of having returned to the battlefield-- a 30 percent recidivism rate. This number is likely much higher and is made even more stark when measured against the recidivism rate of those who haven’t been released: zero.
Less than a week before President Obama took the podium for his final address, his administration released a dangerous Guantanamo Bay detainee, Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef, who also reportedly made some remarks worth noting. “All Americans shall die because these were the rules of Allah,” and he threatened to “research guard force personnel’s names and faces on the Internet and sneak into their homes to cut their throats like sheep.”
President Obama likes to say Guantanamo Bay is a terrorist recruiting tool and while that may be an easy excuse, it’s simply not true. The reality is the motivations of radical Islamic jihadism existed before Guantanamo Bay. The ideology is premised on a narrative of conquest, in the spiritual as well as the earthly world.
They attack us not for what they believe we have done to them, or to Muslims around the world. They attack us for who we are and what we believe in.
President Obama’s State of the Union address was little more than a laundry list of the bad policies and government overreach that will define his policy. I am hopeful that when he departs next January he won’t be able to add closing Guantanamo Bay to his highlight reel.
In fact, we should be sending more terrorists to Guantanamo Bay, not looking for ways to release murders like Bin Atef, who want to slit soldiers’ throats.
Closing this facility for President Obama’s political legacy would be a grave mistake that would put our national security at risk and be a propaganda boon for radical Islam.
Republican Tom Cotton represents Arkansas in the United States Senate.