The Guantanamo Bay detainee prison in Cuba seems to have few fans among Senate lawmakers these days.
Several senators spoke out against Guantanamo at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, calling for the facility to be shut down and assailing the Bush administration’s policy on prisoners of war.
“We cannot defeat terrorism by abandoning our basic American principles and values,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “With the pictures from Abu Ghraib and tales of unjustified detentions and torture, we have provided our enemies with a recruiting field day.”
“Adopting a detainee policy that reflects our values would mean closing Guantanamo, giving detainees due process and releasing those who should never have been there in a timely and responsible manner,” he added.
Leahy claimed that between one-half and one-third of the Guantanamo prisoners had no connection to terrorism, citing the journalist Jane Mayer as his source.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) worried that Guantanamo would haunt the United States’ international reputation for the foreseeable future.
“I’m a fisherman and there are some problems that are very difficult to unsnarl. You can spend hours trying to undo a knot in your line that took thirty seconds to make. I think that Guantanamo is going to be very difficult to unsnarl,” he said.
Criticism of Guantanamo mounted in 2006 when three of its detainees committed suicide and several military lawyers testified before Congress that interrogation techniques had been used that violated the guidelines in the Army field manual. Gradually, more and more senators have stepped forward to suggest shutting down the facility altogether.
And Gitmo’s detractors are not all Democrats. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) said that alleged detainee abuses have tarred America’s reputation.
“The issues that arise from Guantanamo, I fear, are going to be with the U.S. for a long time,” he said.
Republican presidential aspirant Senator John McCain also wants to scrap the Guantanamo facility.
The committee hearing was generally a chorus of Guantanamo criticisms. Chairman Leahy even titled the meeting, “How the Administration’s Failed Detainee Policies Have Hurt the Fight Against Terrorism.”
Senator John Kyl (R-Ariz.) – the lone dissenter present -- ridiculed the name as thoroughly partisan and accused his colleagues of unfairly smearing the Bush administration’s efforts to keep the country safe.
“The rights even before the Supreme Court decision [of Boumediene v. Bush] that we gave to detainees were far greater than any other nation on earth has ever given to detainees,” he said.
Congress has never voted on closing Guantanamo before, although last year the Senate voted 94-3 on an amendment to oppose any efforts to relocate the prison to the continental United States, which many have said would provide greater transparency. Leahy was one of the few who voted against the amendment.