The push to close Guantanamo Bay’s military prison ground to a halt years ago, but after President Obama renewed his call for its closure in May, the Senate followed up today with its first hearing since 2009 on whether or not to shut down Guantanamo.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the majority whip and Obama ally who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, called today’s hearing.
The hearing came as Guantanamo detainees continued a hunger strike protesting their indefinite detention. The U.S. military has been force-feeding the striking detainees to keep them alive, a practice civil-liberties advocates have protested.
“I believe it violates international norms and medical ethics. And at Guantanamo, it happens day after day and week after week,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the hearing.
Republicans remain opposed to closing Guantanamo, or to the options of repatriating detainees to their home countries or bringing them to the United States to stand trial.
“I have a hard time seeing how it is responsible to shut down our detention facilities and send these individuals home, where they almost surely would be released and almost surely would return to threaten and kill more Americans,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the subcommittee’s top Republican, at the hearing.
Witnesses included Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.; Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas.; U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (ret.); Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis (ret.); U.S. Navy Lt. Joshua Fryday, Judge Advocate General’s Corps; Center for Security Policy founder and CEO Frank Gaffney; and Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. They offered a range of opinions on indefinite detentions and the risks of recidivism of detainees.
At a press conference in April, and again during a major speech on national-security policy in May, President Obama renewed his calls to close Guantanamo’s prison – a promise he made during his 2008 run for president, and one that met extreme difficulties as the Justice Department sought to find ways to fulfill the president’s pledge.
“Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that,” Obama said of indefinite detentions and force-feeding during that speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., on May 23, as he engaged a heckler who interrupted him, demanding Guantanamo’s closure.
Durbin, who called the hearing, has been at the center of the Guantanamo storyline before. In 2009, he backed an administration plan to house detainees in a federal prison outside Chicago. That effort was met with resistance from Republicans and, eventually, Democrats. Under current law, it’s illegal to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.