Senators Feinstein and Harkin File Amendment Requiring President Bush to Close Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Within One Year
Jul 12 2007
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have filed an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill requiring President Bush to close the Department of Defense detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year.
The amendment is co-sponsored by Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
The amendment provides the Administration the flexibility to choose how and where to try the detainees – either in military proceedings or in the federal courts – and in which high-security facilities to house them.
There is currently more than enough bed space, at high-security military and federal civilian prisons, to accommodate the Guantanamo detainees within the territorial United States.
There are currently about 375 individuals held at Guantanamo. About 80 of them have been cleared for release, according to the Defense Department. The Administration has stated that it intends to bring charges against no more than 60 to 80 of the remaining detainees. Fourteen “high-value” detainees were transferred to Guantanamo last summer from CIA “black sites,” and another such detainee was sent to Guantanamo from CIA custody since then.
There is sufficient bed space at two military prisons to house Guantanamo detainees, according to the Pentagon. The facilities with current space available are:
- Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: 70 beds available.
- Naval Brig Charleston, South Carolina: 100 beds available. Facility includes a specific wing currently set aside that can house at least 70 “enemy combatants.”
In addition, there are 579 beds available at two high-security federal civilian prisons, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. These facilities are:
- Supermax Prison Florence, Colorado: 16 beds available.
- High-Security Prison, Tucson, Arizona: 563 beds available.
The amendment is similar to earlier bills by Senators Feinstein and Harkin to close Guantanamo, and specifically requires the President to report on implementation of the legislation within three months of passage.
“The Guantanamo Bay detention facility has done tremendous damage to America’s reputation around the world. This facility represents a failed experiment by the Bush Administration to create a new legal system operating outside established U.S. and international law. This is unworthy of this great nation,” Senator Feinstein said.
“The situation at Guantanamo is personal for me,” said Senator Harkin. “As a young staffer on the Hill, I helped to expose the tiger cages at Con Son Island, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prisoners, as well as civilian opponents of the war, were being held incommunicado, tortured and killed with the full knowledge and sanction of the U.S. government. I believe there are disturbing parallels between what transpired on Con Son Island nearly four decades ago and what has happened at Guantanamo in recent years.
In both cases, prisons were deliberately set up on remote islands to limit scrutiny and restrict access. In both cases, detainees were not classified as prisoners of war, expressly to deny them the protections of the Geneva Conventions. In both cases, detainees were deprived of any right to due process, judicial review, or a fair trial. And in both cases, when the mistreatment of detainees was exposed, the United States was accused of hypocrisy, of betraying its most sacred values and violating international law. Now is the time to reclaim America’s moral authority and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”
The amendment filed by Senators Feinstein and Harkin 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 Guantanamo detainees shall be removed from the facility.
- No detainees shall be transferred to a detention facility under U.S. custody located outside the United States.
In addition, the amendment requires that, three months after enactment, the President shall submit a report to Congress describing plans for closing the Guantanamo facility and transferring detainees. It also requires that the President shall keep Congress currently informed of steps taken to implement the legislation.
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.
About 750 individuals, most of whom were suspected of being either Taliban fighters or al Qaeda irregulars, have been sent to Guantanamo Bay. There are roughly 375 there today.
Through much of Guantanamo Bay’s operation, the Bush Administration asserted 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 follow the Geneva Conventions.
Following is a brief chronology of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and related court action:
- 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 in the Hamdan decision rules that the Administration must follow 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 Condoleezza 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: “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.”
- June 4, 2007: Military judges dismissed charges against two Guantanamo detainees, setting back their war-crimes trials. The judges ruled that Salim Ahmed Hamdan, accused of chauffeuring Osama bin Laden, and Omar Khadr, who allegedly killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, may only be tried by military commissions if they are designated as “unlawful enemy combatants,” as required by law. The pair had previously been identified simply as “enemy combatants.” The military tribunals law requiring the “unlawful” designation was pushed through Congress last year by the Bush Administration after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the previous system of military trials for detainees was unconstitutional.
- June 10, 2007: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said: “If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it. And I would not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well then they'll have access to lawyers, then they'll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system is all about?"
- June 11, 2007: In a 2-1 decision in the case of Ali al-Marri, a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. residents cannot be detained indefinitely as “enemy combatants” without being charged.
- June 15, 2007, an affidavit by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, who played a key role in Guantanamo’s “enemy combatant” hearings, said tribunal members relied on vague and incomplete intelligence, and were pressured by superiors to rule against detainees – often without specific evidence. Lt. Col. Abraham’s affidavit also said military prosecutors were given “generic” material that did not hold up in the face of basic legal challenges.
- June 29, 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court reversed course, and agreed to hear a case on whether Guantanamo detainees have a right to U.S. federal court review of their detentions.