This morning, President Barack Obama continued his final lap through the White House by dropping a big piece of news: the president, along with the Department of Defense, sent a plan to Congress to close Guantanamo Bay prison.
Guantanamo, known informally as “Gitmo,” is a detention facility in Cuba, detaining allegedly high-level threats to the national security of the United States. Since its opening in 2002, there has been considerable debate around the prison, especially with regard to the use of torture and the suspension of rights afforded by the American justice system. In 2011, the Obama administration began taking steps to close the facility but has faced stiff resistance to ceasing operations there for good.
Speaking to the nation on Tuesday morning, the president outlined the plan in greater detail, which included transferring some (35 of the 91) detainees to other sites in separate countries, while others will be transferred stateside to facilities such as “Supermax” prison in Fremont County, Colorado. Guantanamo Bay still does hold prisoners that are in judicial proceedings in some way, including 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.
“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama explained. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”
The backlash from the GOP was almost immediate, including dissents from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain. In Colorado, representatives of various districts also spoke out, reflecting the swing nature of the Centennial State.
“I remain adamantly opposed to closing GTMO,” Representative Mike Coffman said in a statement. “The answer to the president’s plan is no, absolutely not. These hardened terrorists are irregular enemy combatants who should be housed at Guantanamo, and not in Colorado nor in any other state.”
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner also released a joint statement with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. The message was similar to what Coffman emphasized in his earlier statements.
“With ever-growing threats abroad and our increased efforts to combat [the Islamic State group], we need a place to house these terrorists, and that place is not in our communities, nor back on the battlefield,” the statement read.
While the potential compromise of national security is the biggest critique of closing the prison, another debate has re-emerged about the use of Guantanamo to terrorist groups and cells . Critics of the facility claim that Gitmos’ mere existence was, and currently is, used as a propaganda tool against the United States, while others dismiss the claim.
In a written statement, Colorado 2nd District Congressman Jared Polis brings up another debate that will most likely become a major sticking point once the president’s plan goes to Congress.
“Opponents of closing the Guantanamo Bay facility have formulated a narrative that the government must choose between the rights of terrorist suspects and our own national security, an ultimatum that I don’t believe,” said Polis. “By openly violating our values as Americans, not only have we weakened ourselves in the eyes of the international community, but also supply recruitment tools for terrorist cells.”
The disagreement between Colorado’s elected officials is only a microcosm of the greater debate that will rage on the floors of Congress in the next few months. And, like the debate raging over Supreme Court justices, it might take some time before a decision is made that benefits both parties, if it is even possible.