THE BLOG

Ill-Advised Guantanamo Vitriol Undermines U.S. Values and Security

02/06/2015 11:19 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

Yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), broadcast his politics of hatred to the world when he said about the current detainees held in Guantánamo Bay: "As far as I'm concerned every last one of them can rot in Hell, but as long as they don't do that they can rot in Guantánamo Bay." Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who should know better, followed up with the astonishing "Common sense would tell us that if you're still in Guantánamo Bay after all these years, you're still a high risk threat."

It's time to end this ignorance, whether real or feigned. Cotton's remarks, aside from being hateful, disregard the entire history of Guantánamo. The fact is that by the spring of 2002 -- 13 years ago -- we knew that most of the men at Guantánamo had been sold to us for bounty and were not involved in hostilities against the United States. Major-General Michael Dunlavey, then the head of interrogation at Guantánamo, actually made a trip to Afghanistan in 2002 to complain about the lack of connection between many of the detainees and Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Senator Cotton and those who sat in support of his statement likely have no knowledge of the voluminous documentary history of post-September 11, 2001 detention operations. But even by political standards, the remarks were breathtakingly ill-advised.

My organization, Reprieve, has represented nearly 70 Guantánamo detainees. We still represent 10 men, most of whom have been cleared for release for years. In order to be cleared, each man must undergo a grueling Periodic Review, in which he is assessed by six government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who must come to a unanimous decision. Once the detainees are cleared, the State Department must then convince our allies to resettle these men. Even though the detainees may never have posed any threat to the United States, our politics are so entrenched that we must rely on others to clean up our mess.

One of my long-cleared clients is Emad Hassan, who has been on hunger strike for seven years to protest his detention without charge or trial. Upon capture, Emad replied affirmatively when asked if he "knew al-Qaeda." Lost in translation was the fact that Emad was talking about the village of Al Qa'idah near his own in Yemen. Despite being told on multiple occasions by U.S. officials that he was a mistake -- and despite being cleared for release for six years -- Emad has endured constant abuse at Guantanamo: he is regularly beaten, and has had multiple hospitalizations because of vicious force-feeding techniques. Amid this continuing ordeal, Emad says, "all I ask is to be given my rights -- the rights that are guaranteed by constitutions in all civilized nations. All I ask is to live free."

Let me say this to Senator Cotton: for Emad, who has taught himself English and bears no ill-will to Americans despite his wretched treatment at our hands, being held indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay is rotting in hell. And to Senator Graham: Emad and so many others do not remain at Guantánamo because they are "high risk threats." They remain at Guantánamo because the resettlement processes are lengthy, difficult, and fraught with disappointment for men who must hope that visiting foreign delegations will recognize the massive humanitarian crisis being perpetrated at Guantánamo. Many countries have done so. But not yet enough to empty the prison of all those unjustly detained.

The sort of posturing, reckless statements made by Senator Cotton, based in neither law nor fact, do not even resemble intelligent counter-terrorism policy. Flagrant departure from the bedrock principles of justice that this country was founded upon does not make us safer. Instead, Senators Cotton, Graham, Ayotte, and the others who spouted false figures and facts about Guantánamo yesterday have shown how far they are willing to damage the United States in order to score political points.