The politics of closing Guantanamo Bay

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 24, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today the department is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all.

THOMAS JOSCELYN, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Today we have 80 detainees left, as both of you congressmen have noted. Of those 80, 65 were deemed by President Obama's task force to be too dangerous to transfer.

REP. RON DESANTIS, R-FLA.: Putting these guys back into circulation, I think it's bad for the security, but it's also a morale-killer if you have somebody who was involved go back and go to terrorism. It's like, geez, what are we doing?


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the administration plans to transfer another 24 detainees by this summer to various host countries. We don't have all the details on that, but take a look at the population here. This is the Gitmo population from when the president took office, January 20th, 2009. There you see today down to 80 detainees, and they're trying to drop that even more significantly.

What about all of this? Let's bring in our panel, Mercedes Schlapp of U.S. News and World Report, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

OK, Charles, to hear the testimony today, the president's own commission looking at all of these people determined that a large percentage of them are the worst of the worst. And yet some of those are among the people who will be transferred.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This is the president being willing to damage the security of the country and I would say other countries as well in the name of a fixed idea he has had, that somehow Guantanamo is sort of a key, a core of the war on terror.

He comes into office and unilaterally declares the war on terror over. And his one mission in war, his one mission, is to close Gitmo. It's not just the danger from the people he's releasing and the people already released. But there's also the future. One of the reasons that jihadism has succeed and spread is that our human intelligence is very weak. One of the reasons for that is we have no way to capture and interrogate, as we did earlier in the war on terror. Either we kill them with drones and dead men can't speak, or, if Obama closes Guantanamo, which he intends to, where are we going to put them? We're going to put them in a jail in Manhattan where they're going to get Miranda rights, a cozy, warm cell, and a lawyer, and they will say nothing.

It is absolutely insane in the middle of a war to treat combatants like that. Guantanamo is the one place that for the future you want to keep open so, as for example, the war on ISIS heats up, our guys will be killed in the field. We capture an ISIS guy, what do we do with him? Turn him over to the Iraqis, the Iranians? Put him in a cell in New York City where they won't say anything? Guantanamo is the place you want. And the idea of closing it, apart from the danger of the guys who are being let out, is insane because you need a place like that to interrogate.

BAIER: Mara, this is the argument the president and the administration has made about recruitment. Take a list on what he said in February.


OBAMA: When it becomes clear that something is not working as intended, when it does not advance our security, we have to change course. For many years it's been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it. It's counterproductive to our fight against terrorists because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.


BAIER: That was really attacked at this hearing today. The witnesses saying there have been 1,000 videos made in the last year by ISIS, not one of them has mentions Gitmo. All of these magazines point to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, none of them mention Gitmo, and they can't really back up the claim that it is propaganda being used by terrorists.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: This is one of President Obama's biggest promises. He wanted to close Guantanamo and he's hasn't been able to, and he's probably not going to be able to. He can empty it out to a certain extent to get the population really, really low, which is what he's doing now. But I don't know if he's going to be able to get all of them out of there, and Congress won't let him close it because there's no other facility that's going to take some of these prisoners.

BAIER: Is there appetite to close it and then to say now only close it but it's going in your backyard, in your state?

LIASSON: No. I mean very few senators would accept terrorists in their backyard. But I think the big threat politically is if some of these prisoners are released and then they commit another terrorist act between now and November. I think that would be a big deal.

BAIER: Mercedes?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Which we know is already happening. Paul Lewis came out, he was a special envoy for the Department of Defense, and he said that close to eight percent of those that are released have reengaged in terrorism. And he also said in this House foreign affairs committee meeting that basically they can go out again, and they are responsible for several deaths, American deaths that have happened. So this is something that we cannot -- we need to be prepared for. When you look at the countries like Ghana and El Salvador, these are the countries where they want to send these detainees to, they don't have the security apparatus to manage these detainees. They can't really follow that. So again, because it's not a foolproof plan for President Obama.

BAIER: But let me push back from on this notion that Gitmo is the best option. Are you saying that we can't do it here? That we can't have a prison here in the U.S. that is able to do this if we wanted to?

KRAUTHAMMER: The problem is more a legal one, which is what we're engaged in in Guantanamo, apart from the interrogation, is indefinite detention. Some of these guys, the worst of the worst, we know who they are, cannot be tried because the evidence has disappeared. You don't go around collecting bullet shells on a battlefield. That's all gone. Half of it is tainted. So you can't try them because you may actually have to acquit them.

But in war time, the idea that you have to try enemy soldiers is absurd. We had hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese POWs on American soil during the Second World War. You release them when the war is over. And if the war doesn't end, it's not our fault, it's the jihadist fault. So you keep them indefinitely in a strange situation because it's a strange war with strange enemy because we have to, and Guantanamo is the ideal place where you would do that. You put them in New York, and all of a sudden you're going to have the legal challenges, the Miranda rights, you have to put them on trial, or you're going to have to let them go, and some of them will be acquitted. That's why we can't put them on trial.

BAIER: Mara, last word.

LIASSON: I think it's tough, but I do think we've held prisoners of war on American soil before, and we can do it again.

KRAUTHAMMER: But without legal rights and trial.

LIASSON: You're going to have to set up some kind of a military tribunal, you'll set up a system for that, but I think it can be done.

BAIER: But it's already operational at Gitmo.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's working at Gitmo. Why do you want to undo it and redo it in a place that the population will reject it and as you yourself said, the senators in that state are not going to accept it?

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