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McKeon weighs in on moving Guantanamo prisoners

Posted: December 15, 2009 2:31 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2009 2:01 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C.- U.S. Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Tuesday released the following opening statement for the markup of H. Res. 924-a Resolution of Inquiry which would force the Department of Defense to provide all information that refers or relates to the trial or detention of the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:

"Mr. Chairman, nearly eleven months ago in one of his first acts in the White House, President Obama signed an executive order which ordered the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba closed by January 2010. At the time many of us doubted the wisdom of the decision and questioned whether the President had a plan in place to execute the decision. We worried that the President was making policy without fully grasping the difficulty of the problem and was blindly carrying out a campaign promise.

"Over ten months later, Mr. Chairman, the President still does not have a plan. The questions have only increased and the concerns continue to grow. Instead of providing a clear plan to the American people, we've seen piecemeal decisions, lacking coherence and explanation. At times these decisions border on reckless. Despite increasing recidivism rates of former GTMO detainees, this Administration continues to transfer detainees to countries that cannot control radicals within their own population.

"Earlier this year I joined with many in Congress to support legislation which would have required the President to 1) notify a state governor and legislature 60 days prior to the transfer or release of a GTMO detainee into their state; 2) obtain the consent of the state governor and legislature to the transfer or release; and 3) certify to Congress that the transfer or release of a GTMO detainee would not adversely affect the national security of the United States or residents of the United States. Regrettably this language was not incorporated in the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. I fear we're now paying the price for not taking a stronger stand in our bill.

"Now, this morning, we hear news that the President will announce today his intention to send GTMO detainees to a prison in Illinois. As has been the practice of this administration, there was no consultation with this committee, nor did we receive the courtesy of a ‘heads up' phone call. Once again our best informant is the press.

"This announcement flies in the face of the will of the American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress, which have already rejected bringing terrorists to U.S. soil for long-term detention. Current law prohibits it and future law should do the same.

"Mr. Chairman, the Administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to the United States will make Americans safer. I ask you today to schedule a series of committee hearings on this decision. Relying on New York Times articles is not sufficient oversight.

"Instead of exercising caution and prudence, the Administration's policy appears as if it is willing to transfer detainees out of GTMO at any cost. The subject of today's markup is the most troubling example: transferring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other 9-11 co-conspirators to New York City for prosecution in federal court.

"This decision is misguided. It is dangerous. It is wrong. Consistent with the rest of the President's detainee policy, the Administration made this announcement without having a plan in place. More than a month after Attorney General Holder announced the decision on Nov. 13, this committee still has not received an answer to the basic question of why President Obama decided to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the heart of New York and not prosecute him in a military commission?

"Shortly after the Attorney General's announcement, I along with other Ranking Members of relevant national security committees sent a letter to the President asking that he provide Congress answers to a number of basic questions, including:

  • "What is the Administration's detention strategy?
  • "Will the Administration give key stakeholders a voice before it imports terrorists into the United States? 
  •  "Can the Administration guarantee its ability to effectively detain and prosecute detainees on U.S. soil?
  • "How will the Administration control the movements and communications of the detainees in the U.S.?

"Mr. Chairman, nearly a month later we have not received a reply to our letter-these questions remain unanswered. There has been no consultation with the Congress.

"Let me be clear, the concerns I raise today are bipartisan-they reflect a deep anxiety shared by Americans across this country. They are also concerns shared by our chairman. In November, Chairman Skelton wrote the President on this decision, saying that ‘[a]s a former prosecutor, I am not yet convinced that the right decision was made in these cases, nor that the presumption in favor of federal criminal trials over military tribunals for these detainees should continue.'

"After much delay and with the prospect of facing today's markup without a briefing, the Administration finally sent witnesses last Thursday to discuss the decision in a classified session. I think many members in attendance were underwhelmed by the information we received and left feeling that the session taught us nothing new. For me, the session made me question whether there was any legitimate policy rationale underlying this decision. Time and time again in the briefing, we did not receive a clear answer as to WHY the Administration made this decision. Instead, we were basically told to accept the decision and move on.

"Well, Mr. Chairman, I am NOT ready to move on. I will not accept this decision in silence. It is wrong to keep this issue confined to a classified session. Transferring detainees into U.S. territory, giving the self-professed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks a platform to spread his venomous ideology is a matter of public policy that should be publicly debated.

"This brings me to the resolution of inquiry we will debate shortly. What I want to know, and what the Administration has failed to provide us, is on what policy grounds did the Administration decide to detain in the United States Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four co-conspirators? How does this keep America safe? Why did the Administration decide not to use the commission system that THIS committee recently reformed to prosecute those responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and New York City?

"Mr. Chairman, we've tried to get this information from the Administration. Unfortunately, even a classified session could not induce an open and transparent discussion. That is why I urge all members of this committee to support my resolution of inquiry. If the representatives of the Administration will not talk clearly and answer basic questions, then our only choice is to let the written record speak for them. Nine months after the President signed the Executive Order we have had no consultation, we still lack a policy, and we remain unable to get a straight story.

"Simply asking for the Administration to comply with the existing law, as the Chairman's substitute would do, does nothing new. It invites the Administration to continue the status quo of handing the Congress pre-cooked decisions without engaging the Congress on the risks and benefits of its decisions. This resolution, if adopted, will unpack the President's controversial decision and reveal to the American people the full story behind the decision.

"Frankly, we've tried regular order and it has yielded no fruit. Thus, the only sensible solution is to seek the written record and that is what this resolution will provide. If the President can give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed all the constitutional rights associated with being detained and prosecuted in the United States, then he should also give the American people the right to understand basis of his decision.

"I urge the committee to support the underlying resolution and reject the Chairman's substitute."


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