On September 11, 2001, the United States peered into the face of evil when 19 foreign terrorists brought the violence of Islamic extremism onto our soil, claiming the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. That day changed the course of history, delineating the post-9/11 era from the days that came before. In the eight years since, America and its allies have boldly waged the Global War on Terror in an effort to prevent terrorism from ever reaching America's shores again and to protect free nations across the world. This conflict has presented our nation with unique operational challenges for which there is no wartime precedent, such as where and how to detain captured terrorists, including the self-confessed mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Since shortly after 9/11, enemy combatants have been detained at a prisoner facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Now, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has become a point of contention. Just two days after President Obama's Inauguration, he issued an Executive Order to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility within a year. I believe this action is premature, and I am extremely concerned about the fast-looming deadline, particularly when no viable alternative for housing these dangerous terrorists and enemy combatants has been outlined.
President Barack Obama's Executive Order states that the closure, which would require the release or transfer of nearly 300 detainees, should be practicable and consistent with national security interests. This cannot happen without a full discussion and thorough plan for the detainment of these enemy combatants. The policy contemplates five scenarios for handling current detainees: hand them over to their home countries for incarceration; transfer them to a neutral country; transfer them to prisons on U.S. soil; send them to U.S. facilities abroad; or release them outright. Unfortunately, all of these alternatives heighten the threat to the lives of Americans at home and abroad.
Without question, the worst of these options is to send Guantanamo prisoners to domestic prisons in the United States. By taking this action, we would essentially place terrorists in the neighborhoods and communities of American citizens. In 2007, the U.S. Senate expressed its firm opposition to any plans to release Guantanamo detainees into American society or to house them in U.S. facilities, by a vote of 94-3. Vice President Biden (then-Senator of Delaware) was among the 94 Senators opposing transfer of the prisoners to the U.S; President Obama (then-Senator of Illinois) was not present for the vote.
Alternatively, transferring enemy combatants to prisons in foreign states or releasing them to their home countries is also a dangerous proposition. In January, it was reported that former Guantanamo detainee Said Ali al-Shihri, who had been released into the custody of Saudi Arabia, has subsequently resurfaced as a terrorist operative. Today, he is al-Qaeda's deputy leader in Yemen and is charged with planning and executing acts of violence against the U.S. and its allies. And al-Shihri is not the exception. According to the Pentagon, as many as 61 enemy combatants released from Guantanamo have since reconnected with terrorist networks and renewed their commitment to destroying America and our way of life. Even more frightening, these 61 former prisoners came from the group of 500 that were deemed less dangerous and were thus released. That means that the approximately 270 detainees currently in Guantanamo represent the most violent and nefarious prisoners.
Clearly, a viable alternative to Guantanamo has not yet been identified. Expediting closure of this detention facility without absolutely ensuring American lives won't be endangered would place misguided foreign policy goals above the protection of our homeland. Moreover, it signals a dangerous return to the pre-9/11 mindset.
On February 11, 2009, I sent a letter to the President, urging him to reconsider his Executive Order and to reject any option that could land terrorists in Texas or anywhere else on American soil. Before setting a deadline to close the detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay, the American people must first be assured that the transfer or release of detainees will not increase the risk of harm to American citizens at home or abroad. As it stands, the administration cannot give that assurance today.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.