Colin Powell Wants to Close Gitmo

The Pentagon released its plan for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, setting off a renewed debate over the prison and the detainees there. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell weighed in in support of closing the facility, noting that the Bush Administration also tried to shutter it—a fact that often gets lost in the politics of the issue.

Attempts to paint closing Gitmo as solely an Obama Administration project overlook the fact that President George W. Bush wanted to close the prison too. In his memoir, Bush wrote that closing Guantanamo was a goal he set early in his second term, and that “the detention facility had become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.” National security leaders agree.

Part of Powell’s job as Secretary of State was to try to encourage other countries to respect human rights and follow the rule of law. Guantanamo’s looming presence made that a challenge. He writes, “As secretary of state, Guantanamo was a heavy load to carry as I went around the world talking about human rights, talking about how you treat prisoners, talking about how you can’t have indefinite detention or the use of torture to get things out of people. And I always had pushback at me, ‘But look at what you were doing at Guantanamo.’”

Guantanamo has complicated counterterrorism cooperation as well. According to former Attorney General Eric Holder, “A number of countries have indicated that they will not cooperate with the United States in certain counterterrorism efforts—for instance, in providing evidence or extraditing suspects—if we intend to use that cooperation in pursuit of a [Guantanamo] military commission prosecution.”

Powell also notes that U.S. federal courts are more than capable of handling Guantanamo detainees, and that keeping the prison open for an ever-shrinking number of prisoners doesn’t make sense, when the government could “easily move [them] to a secure facility in the United States.”

This is just what the Obama Administration’s plan calls for. After transferring a sizable number of detainees already cleared for transfer, the remaining detainees would be moved to a prison facility inside the United States for trial, further review, or to be held until the end of hostilities. Prison officials have repeatedly said that U.S. prisons can handle these detainees without danger.

Congress should heed Powell’s words, and give the plan the serious consideration it deserves.

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Published on February 25, 2016

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