by Daphne Eviatar Human Rights 1st, Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 03:19:29 PM EDT
It was an odd sequence of events.
First, on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill to stop the Obama administration from purchasing a new prison that could house detainees now at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay under lock and key here in the United States.
Then on Friday, just as the Memorial Day weekend got underway, the House of Representatives voted to stop the president from transferring any of the Guantanamo detainees to the United States for any reason - including a trial.
But then on Saturday, the Washington Post reported that actually, only about 10 percent of the 240 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay when President Obama took office were "leaders, operatives and facilitators involved in plots against the United States." The majority were merely low-level fighters. About 5 percent of the prisoners couldn't be categorized as anything at all.
The report was based on the findings of the administration's Guantanamo Review Task Force, provided to the administration last January. Those findings were never released publicly, and only sent to select committees on Capitol Hill last week. The administration reportedly didn't share the information earlier because, in the wake of the failed Christmas-day bombing attempt, members of Congress had displayed little to no interest in closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Last week's events reveal that many members of Congress continue to show little interest in the real facts about Guantanamo and the detainees held there. How else to explain the stubborn refusal to allow any of them to touch United States soil, even to stand trial, regardless of whether there's any reason to believe that they're actually terrorists?
The Obama administration's task force that deemed most of them low-level foot soldiers was made up of more than 60 career professionals -- including intelligence analysts, law enforcement agents and prosecutors. They reviewed capture information, interview reports, CIA, FBI and NSA records, as well as files on the detainees' behavior since their imprisonment. Notably, the Bush administration hadn't even bothered to look at much of this evidence, the task force reported, so last year was the first time it had been systematically compiled and reviewed. Senior officials from six different agencies, including the defense department and Homeland Security, approved the task force's findings.
Still, that seems to be having little impact on the 282 lawmakers who voted to ban them all from coming to the U.S. for trial. Many persist in portraying all of the 180 remaining detainees as "the worst of the worst," as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them.
"We can't stop every terrorist from coming to the United States but we can stop the ones that are coming from Guantanamo," said Rep. Randy J. Forbes, the Virginia Republican who offered the House amendment prohibiting the movement of detainees to the United States.
Meanwhile, a long list of retired military leaders have said that keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center open threatens national security, rather than improving it.
While members of Congress blow hot air about threats they imagine from suspected terrorists confined in Supermax prisons on U.S. soil, they continue to ignore some very real national security dangers that they have the ability to do something about. As the New York Times pointed out over the weekend, Congress has failed to streamline its oversight of national intelligence and refused to prohibit or even adequately regulate companies' use of toxic gases that could easily be weaponized by terrorists for use in a future attack.
It's high time for lawmakers to stop posturing around imaginary threats, which prevents the federal government from bringing actual terrorists to justice and releasing those who don't deserve to be in prison. That - coupled with tackling tangible threats to homeland security that loom right here in our own country - would be the real way to enhance U.S. national security.