Colin Powell hit back at Dick Cheney and other critics over the president's plan to close Guantanamo Bay on Sunday. Scoffing at the notion that U.S. jails couldn't house suspected terrorists, he said that the facility has become a blight on America's image.
In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," the former Secretary of State noted that he had called for Gitmo's closure for "the past six years," and argued that the former vice president's defense of the detention center put him at odds even with his former boss.
"Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama's policy, he is disagreeing with President Bush's policy. President Bush stated repeatedly to international audiences and to the country that he wanted to close Guantanamo."
Later in the interview, Powell continued to push back at his former Bush administration colleague. Arguing that Guantanamo "has caused us a great deal of trouble throughout the world," he brushed aside Cheney's skepticism about Obama's plan or motives.
"Mr. Cheney the other day said, well, we're doing it to satisfy European intellectuals or something like that. No," said Powell. "We're doing it to reassure Europeans, Muslims, Arabs, all the people around the world that we are a nation of law. It isn't so much Guantanamo. It's the people at Guantanamo. How do we deal with them? We can't keep them locked up forever. This business about making the country less safe by bringing these people to our prison system, we have got two million people in jail in America, the highest incarceration rate in the world. And they all had lawyers. They all had access to the writ of habeas corpus and they're all in jail. I don't know... if you've ever seen some of these prison reality shows on television where they show you what a super lock-up is. I'm not terribly worried about one of these guys going to a super lock-up."
The segment was, to date, the most impassioned and broad defense of the closing of Guantanamo to come from a high-ranking Republican official. But it may have come a bit late. The Senate soundly rejected money to pay for Gitmo's closure last week and, with each passing day, Republicans in Congress see a political opening in attacking the White House on this front.
Calling the process of closing Gitmo "complex" and referencing the difficulties Bush faced in trying to make it happen, Powell said that President Obama had underestimated and mishandled the heavy political lift involved.
"President Obama came in saying he would close Guantanamo and he has run into some of those same sorts of problems," he said. "So I think we need to kind of take the heat out of this issue. I think President Obama didn't handle it very well by going up to Congress and asking for $80 billion without a plan. And by frankly, giving enough time to opponents of it to marshal their forces as to why we shouldn't do this."