ICYMI: Scott National Review Op-Ed: Keep Guantanamo Open — the Arguments for Closing It Don’t Add Up

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) today published an op-ed in the National Review telling the real story of what it’s like at the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay following his recent visit with Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to the facility in Cuba. As part of his visit, the reviewed the detention operations and met with American troops serving at the facility. Last week, President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained language that would keep terrorists from being transferred to domestic soil, and his press secretary stated that the president wants Congress to “get out of the way” on the issue.

Keep Guantanamo Open – the Arguments for Closing It Don’t Add Up
National Review
Senator Tim Scott
November 4, 2015

Irecently had the opportunity to travel to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to review the detention facilities housing some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, as well as to meet the brave Americans guarding them every day. On the heels of the president’s using Guantanamo as a major reason to veto the National Defense Authorization Act and continue his push to transfer these dangerous terrorists to domestic soil, this trip took on an added level of importance.

After visiting, it is clearer than ever to me that Guantanamo is the best place on earth to keep these terrorists. These are al-Qaeda members, terrorist financers, and other highly dangerous people.

So why does the president want to shut it down and have Congress, as his press secretary Josh Earnest said late last week, “get out of the way”? Let’s walk through the arguments.

The propaganda war:Opponents of keeping the detention facilities open at Guantanamo believe that by closing it, we can stop terrorist groups from using it as a recruiting tool. This requires you to also believe that any new facility built would not be held up as a recruiting tool. And if you believe that, I have a nice, new bridge to sell you.

Here’s what is actually occurring at Guantanamo: 250 assaults on our guards in the past year and a half…and absolutely zero retaliations. Our troops are highly disciplined and dedicated to serving our nation, and this proves it. This number is rarely reported on, but it tells you more about what is happening at Guantanamo Bay than anything else.

At the same time, compliant detainees have their own portable DVD players, wireless headphones, and access to satellite TV and PlayStation. If they behave well, they can be out of their cells for 22 hours a day. But that doesn’t make for very good propaganda.

Prohibitive cost:Folks like to throw out there that it costs $2.4 million per detainee annually at Guantanamo Bay and that it would be more cost-efficient to close the facilities and bring these terrorists to domestic soil.

Now anyone who looks at my voting record knows that I am a strong fiscal conservative. Part of what I dislike about how Congress budgets is the use of murky numbers and procedures that don’t tell the full story – Washington math. And Washington math is in full effect on this $2.4 million number.

As the president rushes to transfer terrorists out of Guantanamo, of course the per capita cost is going to appear to rise. (It is also important to note here the 30 percent recidivism rate among detainees who have left Guantanamo.) The president has sent more than 40 detainees on their way in the past few years, as part of his political calculations to close the detention facilities down, and a nice side effect of that is this shiny new number to throw out.

Second, built into these cost calculations are the salaries of hundreds of our troops guarding these terrorists. But our armed forces are not a private industry, and those salaries will not just disappear. Those troops will just be deployed elsewhere. That’s not actually saving money – and anyone who wants to save on the backs of our troops is barking up the wrong tree anyway.

And finally, it does not take into account that we would need to provide substantial upgrades to existing facilities or build a brand-new facility to hold these detainees. That would cost untold millions on its own.

We can hold them domestically:Here is where the rubber meets the road. There are detainees who are simply too dangerous to release and whom no country would agree to accept. So, if you close the Guantanamo detention facilities, you have to move the remaining terrorists somewhere on American soil. The administration has already publicly surveyed Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, the Naval brig outside Charleston, S.C., and the supermax facility in Colorado.

We can look at the Naval brig in Hanahan, S.C., as a prime example of why moving terrorists to domestic soil is not just a terrible idea but wholly unnecessary. This medium-security facility sits less than two miles from a residential neighborhood, a elementary school, and a high school; four miles from the Charleston airport; and 20 minutes from downtown Charleston – one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It is also near vital infrastructure such as the Port of Charleston and multiple rail lines.

It simply does not make sense to transfer some of the most dangerous men in the world here, especially when we considerwhere they would be coming from. Guantanamo is surrounded by water, desert, and mountains. It is incredibly isolated. This is not an accident.

While it is extremely disappointing that the president has chosen to veto the NDAA in part because of his desire to close the Guantanamo detention facilities, I have secured commitments from congressional leadership that the language in the bill regarding this issue will not change. The men and women serving our nation at Guantanamo are doing an amazing job at a state-of-the-art facility – one there is no need to replace.

– Tim Scott is the junior United States senator from South Carolina.