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Senator Feinstein Introduces Legislation to Close Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

-Bill requires transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to other detention facilities-

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation today to close the Department of Defense detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year of the bill’s enactment.

It is the first measure introduced in the Senate to close the Guantanamo Bay facility.

 Senator Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is deeply concerned that open-ended detentions and documented reports of detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay have tarnished America’s reputation and complicated our efforts to fight global terrorism.

 “Guantanamo Bay has become a lightning rod for international condemnation,” Senator Feinstein said. “This has greatly damaged the nation’s credibility around the world. Rather than make the United States safer, the image projected by this facility puts us at greater risk. The time has come to close it down.”

“I want to be clear. I am absolutely opposed to releasing any terrorists, Taliban fighters or anyone else held at Guantanamo who is committed to harming the United States.

“At the same time, we must recognize the sustained damage this facility is doing to our international standing. We are better served by closing this facility and transferring the detainees elsewhere.”

The legislation Senator Feinstein has introduced requires that, within one year of the date of enactment:

  • The President shall close the Department of Defense detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; and
  • All detainees at the facility shall be removed and transferred to:
    • A civilian or military facility in the United States and charged with a violation of U.S. or international law for prosecution in a civilian or military proceeding;
    • A facility in the United States for continued detention, where authorized;
    • Any international legal tribunal that may be authorized for this purpose; or
    • The detainees’ home nations or a third-party government for further processing; there must be assurances that detainees will not be tortured or otherwise handled in a manner against international law.

Guantanamo Bay detainees who are found by the Department of Defense to pose no continuing security threat to the United States or its allies, and who have committed no crime, could be released.

“I believe this legislation works in our national interest in several ways,” Senator Feinstein said. “First, it helps to remove a symbol that directly harms our reputation as the world’s leader in support for the rule of law. Closing this facility will restore our moral authority, and make our nation more effective in the fight against global terror.

“And conducting trials elsewhere, either in the United States or before internationally recognized tribunals, will give these proceedings a credibility that they would likely not have if they were conducted at Guantanamo Bay.”

The Bush Administration began using the Guantanamo Bay facility in January 2002, four months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States and on the heels of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Roughly 750 individuals suspected of being either Taliban fighters or al Qaeda irregulars have been sent to Guantanamo Bay. About 350 are there today.

 Throughout much of Guantanamo Bay’s operation, the Bush Administration contended that detainees were not subject to protections under the Geneva Conventions, a position likely to make American troops captured on the battlefield face abuse from our enemies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Administration must honor the Geneva Conventions.

Following is a brief chronology of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility:

  • January 2002: Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay receives the first of hundreds of detainees.
  • April 2002: Camp X-Ray closes; detainees transferred to Camp Delta.
  • June 2004: The Federal Bureau of Investigation opens an internal investigation to determine if any of its agents had observed mistreatment or aggressive behavior toward Guantanamo Bay detainees. The FBI’s concerns led to a Department of Defense investigation headed by Air Force Lieutenant General Schmidt.
  • November 30, 2004: The New York Times reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross charged, in confidential reports to the United States government, that the American military had intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on Guantanamo Bay detainees. The report said detainees were forced to endure "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." The story also revealed that a January 2003 confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross raised questions whether “psychological torture” had taken place at Guantanamo Bay.
  • December 21, 2004: The Washington Post reported that FBI agents, in memos spanning a two-year period, witnessed a variety of abuses at Guantanamo Bay. The newspaper reported that one FBI agent, on August 2, 2004, wrote: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." In once case, the agent continued, "the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."
  • June 2005: An official Department of Defense report by Air Force Lieutenant General Randall Schmidt, launched in response to the FBI concerns, found three instances of “degrading and abusive treatment” in violation of Department of Defense guidelines. These included the use of dogs in interrogations, extended period of solitary confinement and sleep deprivation. The report concluded that these acts did not constitute torture or inhumane treatment, and that some of the abuses alleged to have been witnessed by the FBI could not be corroborated.
  • February 2006: Then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the U.S. should close the Guantanamo Bay facility, backing a key conclusion of a U.N.-appointed independent panel. "I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo, and I think it will be up to the government to decide, hopefully, to do it as soon as is possible," he said. The Bush Administration dismissed the report’s findings.
  • May 8, 2006: President Bush told ARD German television, "Obviously, the Guantanamo issue is a sensitive issue for people. I very much would like to end Guantanamo; I very much would like to get people to a court. And we're waiting for our Supreme Court to give us a decision as to whether the people need to have a fair trial in a civilian court or in a military court.”
  • June 29, 2006: U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Administration must honor the Geneva Conventions.
  • March 23, 2007: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked whether the Guantanamo Bay detention facility would close before the end of the Bush Presidency. Snow replied: “I doubt it, no. I don't think it will.” 
  • March 23, 2007: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said: “The President has been very clear, and he is clear to us all the time. He would like to see it closed. We all would."
  • March 29, 2007: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in testimony before the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said Guantanamo has “a taint about it.” Gates said: “I came to this position believing that Guantanamo should be closed. I know that people have expressed that as a wish. The president has expressed it as a wish.”

“The abuses at Guantanamo Bay are well-documented and cover a period of several years. The President himself has said that he would like the detention facility closed. Yet it is clear that the Administration shows no inclination to close it,” Senator Feinstein said.

“My bill takes action where the Administration has failed to do so. I urge the Senate to support it, and I urge the President to sign it into law.”