5 senators at Guantanamo hearing easily outnumbered by protesters


McClatchy Washington Bureau

More than four years after President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, members of Congress are still sparring over the future of the facility.

The latest round came Wednesday in a Senate hearing room, where just five senators listened to service members and think tank leaders in a new attempt to take the issue off the back burner as hunger strikes and force-feedings continue at the prison.

"The reality is that every day that it remains open, the Guantanamo prison weakens our alliances, inspires our enemies and calls into question our commitment to human rights," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that heard the testimony.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, contradicted Durbin’s sentiments, citing terrorist attacks in Boston, Benghazi, Libya, and Fort Hood, Texas, as proof that the U.S. is still a target.

"Until we are presented with a good, viable strategy for what to do with terrorists who would work night and day to murder innocent Americans, I have a hard time seeing how it is responsible to shut down our detention facilities and send these individuals home where they . . . almost surely would return to threaten and kill more Americans," he said.

The detention center, which was opened in January 2002, currently holds 166 prisoners, 86 of whom have been cleared for release. Another 46 have been designated to be held indefinitely but won’t face criminal charges.

Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who led efforts to train Iraqi security forces after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, told the gathering that the prison is a black mark on America’s reputation abroad, as well as the U.S. Constitution.

"Guantanamo cannot be buffed enough to shine again after the sins of the past," he said. "Improvements in detainee treatment and in military commission rules will not change the belief in the eyes of our allies and our enemies that Guantanamo is a significant problem to the prosecution of the U.S. national security agenda."

But holding terrorists in prisons in the United States remains anathema to some, even though many convicted terrorists are incarcerated in federal penitentiaries

"I believe we owe it to the American people to avoid bringing terrorists into the country," said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who was invited to testify. "We did not take the fight to the terrorists to bring the terrorists back to the United States."

Polling has found that Americans support keeping the facility open. An ABC News-Washington Post poll last year found that 70 percent of Americans, including 79 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats, held that opinion.

The months-long hunger strike at the detention center provided a backdrop for the hearing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who’d asked the administration to halt force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo, was among the handful of senators who attended. Also there were Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Dozens of protesters came. Some had donned orange jumpsuits in solidarity with the detainees, while others shouted during remarks or sang as the hearing ended. Elliott Adams, a former paratrooper in the Vietnam War, said he’d fasted since May 17 to protest the force-feedings, taking in just 300 calories a day.

"I had to do something. I couldn’t sit there," he said. "Who am I if I can allow that to happen in my name and not do something? So I decided to fast."

Email: bkamisar@mcclatchydc.com

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • House Democrats' committee sitting on $40M fund

    Donors gave more than $10 million in March to the committee tasked with electing House Democrats and helped it amass a $40 million fund to fight skepticism that Republicans can be ousted from their majority in November.

FILE - This March 29, 2010 file photo shows Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio in Cincinnati. Negative campaigning and mudslinging may be a fact of life in American politics, but can false accusations made in the heat of an election be punished as a crime? That debate makes its way to the Supreme Court next week as the justices consider a challenge to a controversial Ohio law that bars false statements about political candidates during a campaign. The case began during the 2010 election, when the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, planned to launch a billboard campaign accusing then-Democratic Driehaus of supporting taxpayer-funded abortion because he backed President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

    Court to weigh challenge to ban on campaign lies

    Negative campaigning and mudslinging may be a fact of life in American politics, but can false accusations made in the heat of an election be punished as a crime?

FILE - In this April 9, 2013, file photo, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks with reporters about gun control at the Capitol in Washington. A year after the Senate scuttled President Barack Obama’s drive for new firearms restrictions, congressional gun control supporters are significantly winnowing their 2014 legislative agenda. That’s because of a lack of Senate votes, opposition by the Republican-run House and Democratic worries about this November’s elections. Reid says he needs additional votes before revisiting a proposed expansion of gun sale background checks that the Senate derailed in April 2013.

    A year after background check defeat, modest goals

    Democratic worries about this November's elections, a lack of Senate votes and House opposition are forcing congressional gun-control supporters to significantly winnow their 2014 agenda, a year after lawmakers scuttled President Barack Obama's effort to pass new curbs on firearms.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category