McConnell: Americans Deserve More Than Vague Assurances of Safety

‘They want to know which communities are being considered, and they want to know how the people who live in these communities would be affected by the arrival of terrorists’

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday regarding the lack of responsiveness by the administration to Congressional questions on the threats and legal questions posed by the potential transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States:

“For the past several weeks, I have repeatedly expressed my concerns about the administration’s decision to fix an arbitrary deadline on closing Guantanamo before it has a plan for the detainees. In my view, it was irresponsible for the administration to announce the closure of this safe and secure facility before it could assure the American people that the alternative would be no less safe.

“So far, the administration’s response to these concerns has been to simply assure people that any future transfer will not endanger Americans. Attorney General Holder says that detainees from Guantanamo would only be sent to American prisons if he is convinced that doing so won’t impact the safety of the communities they’re sent to. National Security Advisor Jim Jones has said the same thing. On Sunday, he said nothing would be done to make Americans, quote, ‘less safe.’

“These assurances may be consoling to some. But Americans deserve more than vague assurances. They want to know which communities are being considered, and they want to know how the people who live in these communities would be affected by the arrival of terrorists. In short, Americans want the kind of assurances and specifics the Attorney General has evidently shared with foreign governments like he did recently on a trip to Europe, but not with the United States Congress.

“News reports indicate that Alexandria, Virginia, is a possible destination for some detainees from Guantanamo. A few years ago, when one of the 9/11 conspirators, Zacharias Moussaoui, was held in Alexandria, the jail had to set aside a unit of six cells and a common area just for him. Every time Moussaoui was moved to a nearby courthouse, he was transferred in a heavily armed convoy and the entire prison was locked down. And whenever Moussaoui was transferred to the courthouse, traffic was stopped due to security concerns, a major inconvenience to locals and local businesses.

“These were the security requirements for just one terrorist. Now imagine duplicating these procedures many times over for multiple detainees from Guantanamo.

“Based on its own past experience with Moussauoui, local officials in Alexandria are extremely concerned. The mayor of Alexandria said recently that he is ‘absolutely opposed’ to detainees from Guantanamo going to Alexandria and that he’d do everything in his power to stop it. Alexandria’s Sheriff is also unconvinced by the administration’s claims. He said that if multiple detainees were sent to Alexandria, they could, quote ‘overwhelm the system.’

“Congressman Jim Moran, who represents Alexandria, is one of the few people who’s open to the idea of domestic transfers. But even he admits the strain would be intense.

“Yet what is even more worrisome to some officials at the local level is the prospect that any city which houses these detainees could become the target of a terrorist attack. The residents of Alexandria are concerned about it, and so are the residents of communities all across the country. I can assure you that Kentuckians don’t want detainees from Guantanamo living anywhere within our borders, and I know that communities all over the country share the same concerns.

“Already, state and local officials in places like Louisiana, California, and Mississippi have been introducing resolutions to stop these terrorists from being sent to their communities. In Virginia, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution opposing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the Marine base at Quantico. In Missouri, the Legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to keep detainees out of the state.

“Similar measures have been introduced or approved in other states including California, where Camp Pendleton is considered a candidate to receive detainees. Here in Washington, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also raising concerns. When one Democratic Senator was asked about the possibility of detainees being sent to his state, he was blunt: ‘No way,’ he said, ‘Not on my watch.’ Other Democrats have voiced serious concerns about the impact transferring detainees would have on their communities. They know about the experience of Alexandria during the Moussaoui trial, and they don’t want it duplicated many times over in their own communities.

“So there is strong bipartisan opposition to this proposal. I can’t think of a congressional district in America that would welcome terrorists. Local communities want the administration to explain how transferring or releasing detainees won’t make them, quote, ‘less safe’. And the American people want the administration to explain its plans to their elected representatives in Congress.

“Senator Sessions, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, has now sent the Attorney General two letters asking what legal authority the administration has to release trained terrorists into the United States. He has yet to receive the courtesy of a response. Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf sent a letter to the Attorney General in March regarding concerns he had with transferring Guantanamo detainees to Alexandria. He has since sent two more letters. The Attorney General has not responded to any of these requests.

“Democrats are also demanding that the administration provide details for how it plans to deal with the terrorists at Guantanamo. Senior Democrats are now acknowledging that the administration simply doesn’t have a plan, and are asking the administration to provide one. Members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure the administration is not taking any actions that endanger the American people, and we have a responsibility to protect our constituents.

“It is unacceptable that the Attorney General is willing to discuss details about his plans for Guantanamo with foreign countries but not with the American people or their elected representatives. Members of Congress deserve, and the American people expect, the administration to provide us with answers.”