WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Wednesday that U.S. forces kill suspected terrorists and enemy combatants because they cannot detain them in Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, arguing the facility must remain open to prevent the nation from losing valuable intelligence.
“Without a jail, they’re pushed to kill people that they’d otherwise capture,” he said at a press conference.
After U.S. Navy SEALs killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, some have called for the Obama administration to reconsider its policies on Guantanamo Bay, which has not accepted any new detainees for years, because information obtained at the facility may have helped in the search for bin Laden.
But Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday the administration still intends to close the detention center in Cuba, although it has taken longer than was initially anticipated. In the meantime, detainees are housed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or handed over to allies.
Graham, along with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), introduced a bill on Wednesday that would keep Guantanamo open, as well as block the government from transferring detainees to other nations or opening a center within the continental United States. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also support the bill.
Graham said there is “no pathway forward when it comes to closing Guantanamo Bay in the foreseeable future,” claiming there are also no viable alternatives for housing detainees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or from other countries.
“The current system is gravitated toward killing people instead of capturing them because there’s no jail,” he said. “If you do capture them and you’re unable to put them in American control, you’re given the choice of having to turn them over to another country that would be less respectful of human rights, and above all else, you’re losing intelligence.”
The senators are hoping to block detainees from being tried in civilian courts or military tribunals within the continental United States, a problem the Obama administration ran into before when it attempted to find a site for a high-security detention facility within U.S. borders.
Graham said that housing suspected terrorists within the United States would be dangerous, blasting human rights groups for their criticisms of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.
“Amnesty International, I respect your work, but you’re dead wrong when you try to push our country into using our Article III [civilian] courts in a time of war,” he said. “Some of those human rights groups are trying to push our country into decisions that will get people killed for no higher purpose.”
Experts on military law said Graham’s claims were baseless, calling them an obvious effort to win a political argument to keep the detention center open. National Institute of Military Justice President Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches at Yale Law School, said Graham made “a great lawyer’s statement,” but that it did not apply to the decision-making of U.S. forces.
“I think it speaks very poorly of his opinion of our armed forces,” Fidell told HuffPost. “We spend a fortune on training, we have an aggressive program of ensuring people are familiar with the rules of engagement. The notion that somebody at the point of the spear would be going through this sort of careful lawyer’s calculus before deciding what to do with an insurgent strikes me as preposterous and insulting to our armed forces.”
The government can house detainees in Afghanistan or in other countries, Fidell said.
But Republicans and others, such as Lieberman, who want to keep Guantanamo Bay open, may try to use explosive rhetoric to keep the Obama administration from closing down the facility, said Stephen Vladeck, a national security and international law professor at American University.
“I think it’s rhetoric divorced from any actual analysis, designed to basically force the administration’s hand to equate closing Guantanamo with weakness,” Vladeck told HuffPost. “The unfortunate reality is that i think the administration has largely bought into that rhetoric.”