Letter from Human Rights and Civil Liberties Groups Supporting Gitmo Provisions of NDAA

On Friday, a large group of human rights and civil liberties groups sent a joint letter to Members of the Senate in support of the provisions of the NDAA on Guantanamo Bay detainee transfer. In an earlier post here on Just Security, I highlighted that the Senate Armed Services Committee-sponsored billed would, among other things, allow the Department of Defense to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for trial or another country if the detainee were no longer considered a national security threat.

In their letter (which is reprinted in full after the jump), the groups state that “[m]ore than half of the 164 Guantanamo detainees were cleared for transfer by national security and intelligence agencies in 2010, but current law needlessly complicates efforts to transfer them.” They argue:

“[t]his is an unacceptable delay, particularly for men the government cleared for transfer more than four years ago in a comprehensive interagency process. Lt. General John F. Kelly, who as head of U.S. Southern Command ultimately oversees the prison, testified to Congress earlier this year on the effect this delay has had on the detainees. According to his testimony, the massive hunger strike at the facility – which continues today, albeit in reduced numbers – was driven by detainees’ “devastation” at the government’s failure to execute plans to shutter the detention facility.”

The groups rightly point out that the provisions enjoy broad bipartisan support, including from national security and military experts from both sides of the aisle:

National security leaders on both sides of the aisle agree that detentions at Guantanamo serve as a powerful propaganda weapon against the United States. Former President George W. Bush; former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell; former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta; former National Security Advisor James Jones; General Charles C. Krulak (ret.), former Commandant of the Marine Corps; General Joseph P. Hoar (ret.), former CENTCOM commander; former CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen; and Brigadier General Michael Lehnert (ret.), who set up the prison, all support closing the detention facility.

The full Senate is expected to take up the NDAA later this week. Just Security will be following the debate on these provisions (and the rest of the NDAA debate) as it happens in the coming days and weeks.

Here is the letter (reprinted in full):

November 15, 2013

Dear Senator:

The undersigned human rights and civil liberties groups strongly urge you to support the Guantanamo Bay detainee transfer provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014 as reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). We also urge you to oppose all amendments that restrict transfers beyond provisions in the current bill. The Guantanamo provisions in the SASC version of the NDAA (Senate NDAA) will help protect American values and human rights and will facilitate the end of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay.

More than half of the 164 Guantanamo detainees were cleared for transfer by national security and intelligence agencies in 2010, but current law needlessly complicates efforts to transfer them. Only two of the 86 detainees then slated for transfer from Guantanamo Bay have been successfully transferred from the facility under the current transfer protocol.

This is an unacceptable delay, particularly for men the government cleared for transfer more than four years ago in a comprehensive interagency process. Lt. General John F. Kelly, who as head of U.S. Southern Command ultimately oversees the prison, testified to Congress earlier this year on the effect this delay has had on the detainees. According to his testimony, the massive hunger strike at the facility – which continues today, albeit in reduced numbers – was driven by detainees’ “devastation” at the government’s failure to execute plans to shutter the detention facility.

In his May speech at the National Defense University, President Obama recommitted his administration to closing Guantanamo. Since that time, the administration has appointed envoys at the Departments of Defense and State tasked with achieving closure of Guantanamo. But Congress must also do its part to facilitate this process. Now is the time to act. The Guantanamo provisions in the Senate NDAA clarify and modify the executive’s existing authority to transfer detainees to foreign countries and provide important additional flexibility to close Guantanamo responsibly. Specifically, the provisions in the Senate NDAA replace a cumbersome certification and waiver regime with a more sensible, factor-based standard designed to mitigate any risks related to transfer.

The Guantanamo provisions in the Senate NDAA also make additional improvements to current law. For example, they facilitate transferring detainees who, through the recently-launched periodic review process, are found not to pose a threat to U.S. security, and they lift the ban on transfers to the United States for criminal prosecution. The latter improvement is critical given that federal criminal courts offer a more experienced and less costly venue relative to the fundamentally flawed military commissions system at Guantanamo Bay. The military commissions are moving at a glacial pace amidst a sea of controversy and have cost the United States $600 million since 2007 while convicting only seven detainees. Transferring any remaining detainees who will be charged to federal court will work to put an end to the delay of justice and the extreme cost of the experimental justice system at Guantanamo Bay.

Regardless of your position on the ultimate closure of Guantanamo, encumbering transfers of detainees is counterproductive to U.S. national security. National security leaders on both sides of the aisle agree that detentions at Guantanamo serve as a powerful propaganda weapon against the United States. Former President George W. Bush; former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell; former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta; former National Security Advisor James Jones; General Charles C. Krulak (ret.), former Commandant of the Marine Corps; General Joseph P. Hoar (ret.), former CENTCOM commander; former CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen; and Brigadier General Michael Lehnert (ret.), who set up the prison, all support closing the detention facility.

Closing Guantanamo is good human rights policy and, according to military and intelligence experts, good national security policy. The Guantanamo provisions in the Senate NDAA provide the necessary flexibility to execute that policy responsibly. We urge your support of the Guantanamo provisions in the Senate NDAA and urge you to vote “no” on any amendments that would further restrict transfers.

Sincerely,

American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Arab American Institute
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for International Policy
Center for National Security Studies
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Justice Network
Just Foreign Policy
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Open Society Policy Center
Physicians for Human Rights
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Win Without War

 

About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).