Sen. Tom Cotton on why the US should preserve Gitmo

Lawmaker discusses the debate about the facility


This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," February 9, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Well, a lawyer for the architect of the 9/11 attacks is lashing out tonight against Republican Senator Tom Cotton after he suggested the prisoners held down at Gitmo can "rot in hell."

Senator Cotton made those comments last week when he was grilling a Pentagon official about President Obama's rationale for wanting to close the infamous prison.


SEN. TOM COTTON, R-ARK., ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Islamic terrorists don't need an excuse to attack the United States. They don't attack us for what they do. They attack us for who we are. It's not a security decision. It's a political decision based on the promise the president made on his campaign. To say it is a security decision based on propaganda value that our enemies get from it is a pretext to justify a political decision.

In my opinion, the only problem in Guantanamo Bay is that there are too many empty beds and cells there right now. We should be sending more terrorists there for further interrogation to keep this country safe. As far as I'm concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they don't do that then they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.


KELLY: Now, the attorney representing the most notorious Gitmo detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is condemning the senator's remarks.


DAVID NEVIN, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED: If a United States senator is free to say, let them rot in hell, then what about when our captives? What about when our people are captured let's say in Iraq or Afghanistan? Aren't those people free to say well, let them rot in hell?

I thought it was utterly shameful. A United States senator should not be speaking in that way.


KELLY: Just a bit earlier I spoke to Senator Cotton in his first TV interview after those remarks. He is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.


KELLY: Senator, thank you for being here tonight. So your reaction to that criticism that this kind of messaging could negatively impact American service personnel overseas.

COTTON: Megyn, unfortunately, our enemies whether it's the Islamic state or the Taliban or Al Qaeda, don't need an excuse to treat any of our captives terribly.

KELLY: Let me ask you this, because the response by those who are against the Gitmo camp to that argument is, we're supposed to be better than them. We're supposed to have a rule of law. We're supposed to have a constitution which the Supreme Court has ruled does apply to those being held at Gitmo.

COTTON: Megyn, we are better than them. In fact, none of these people at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to those protections. They were unlawful combatants not wearing uniforms or declaring themselves on the battlefield, fighting among civilians. President Bush made the decision to provide those protections to them. And the people who are now left at Guantanamo Bay, approximately 120 terrorists, are not innocent goat herders. There is no one there who is not a hardened terrorist. We can't expect our soldiers in the middle of the battle in 2001 to be CSI detectives. They're there to fight and win our country's wars. And that means taking captive terrorists who have a clear known intent to attack Americans whenever and wherever they can if released from Guantanamo Bay.

KELLY: It's an unconventional situation where normally in the course of war, you have a war, you lock up the enemy's prisoners, you take prisoners of war or your kill the enemy. But if you lock them up and when the war is over, you release them in a prisoner exchange. That's how it used to go. But this is an unconventional war where it's ongoing. These radical Islamists wanted to kill us, they wanted to do it yesterday, they want to do it today and they are going to want to do it tomorrow.

So it begs the question what we are supposed to do with the guys down at Gitmo, which you know the other said hey, you can't hold them in perpetuity without a trial, without charges, without the rule of law. They say they're already living in hell down there. One of the lawyers for one of the guys came out and said he's on a hunger strike and he is on a shower strike and he is in solitary confinement because he'd rather die than live out in perpetuity down there.

COTTON: Well, Megyn, they're not American citizens, they're terrorists. They're not entitled to the legal rights of American citizens. If they didn't want to be detained indefinitely, they shouldn't have taken up arms against America. They should have mastermind the terrorist attack that killed 3,000 Americans. And if we release them, then you can be sure a large number will return to the battlefield. As by some estimates, almost one-third of all detainees released from Guantanamo have returned to the battlefield. And what's so regrettable is the president hasn't sent a single captured terrorist there in his six years in office.

KELLY: He wants to close it down and he doesn't want to add to what he sees the problem. What do you think is the solution, because originally, the Obama administration said hey, let's bring them to the United States, we'll try them on U.S. soil, we can handle them in federal court. Then they said well, let's bring them to a U.S. prison, we can handle them there. And the Republicans who are controlling the congress said we're going to defund all that. That's not going to happen, not going to give you the money to do that.

So now it's try them at Gitmo or release them. And the question is where are we releasing them to? Half were going to go back to Yemen, but now Yemen's in tatters and Al Qaeda is basically rising.

COTTON: Megyn, it wasn't only Republicans. It was a Democratic supermajority in Congress that started these funding restrictions to prevent the president from bringing these terrorists to the United States. In my opinion, we should preserve Guantanamo Bay as a critical part in the overall war on terror. We should be sending more terrorists there. It's always good to kill a terrorist if that's the only choice, but it's even better to capture them and interrogate them to develop more intelligence, so we can stop attacks against the American homeland and against American citizens and interests around the world.

KELLY: Finally, before I let you go, to the lawyer for Khalid Sheik Mohammed who is now calling you shameful, any response?

COTTON: Again, terrorists don't need any excuse to attack us here. They've shown that for decades and decades and decades. We should be proud of the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay and the way our soldiers conduct themselves all around the world to include the people doing the very hard work at Guantanamo Bay.

KELLY: Senator Tom Cotton, thank you for your service and thank you for being here.

COTTON: Thank you, Megyn.

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