U.S. Senator Mike Johanns today gave a speech on the Senate floor urging the President and his Senate colleagues to reject closing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detainment facilities as the President proposed earlier in the year. The Executive Order signed by President Obama in January would require all current Guantanamo detainees to be moved and the facilities to be shut down within one year, despite there being no plan for how this should be done.
"Terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, are currently being held at Guantanamo and should not be transferred to American soil, or worse, be allowed to go free," said Johanns. "This would be a very dangerous course of action that would put the safety of American citizens at risk. Like many Nebraskans, I am very troubled by the possibility of these detainees being moved near Nebraska's borders, and I will be working to ensure Nebraskans are not endangered by the President's Executive Order."
Highlights and the full text of Senator Johanns' speech as prepared for delivery are below:
• In January 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order to close Guantanamo Bay detainment facilities within one year.
• Currently, there is no plan for where or how these detainees should be moved.
• The President requested up to $80 million to pay for closing Guantanamo in his supplemental funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan.
o $30 million would go to the Justice Department for its review of the detainees still in custody and closure of the facility.
o $50 million would go to the Department of Defense to support the transfer detainees to locations that have not yet been determined.
• Two of the sites on U.S. soil being considered to house transferred detainees are Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum facility in Colorado.
o Both facilities are within 250 miles of the Nebraska border.
• In 2007, the Senate voted 94-3 to reject moving Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil.
• Senator Johanns sent a letter to Attorney General Holder on April 23 requesting a personal briefing before any decision is made to move current Guantanamo detainees within 400 miles of Nebraska's borders.
Senator Mike Johanns As Prepared for Delivery:
"Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the detainment facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
"At the end of January, the President signed an Executive Order indicating his intention to close Guantanamo. Unfortunately, the Executive Order was short on detail. We know that the Justice Department is reviewing the cases of the individual detainees; we know that the President would like to move these detainees somewhere else. Unfortunately, three-months after the release of the executive order, that is about all we know.
"If the President still plans to close GITMO within a year, the clock is ticking, and we have only nine months until the deadline laid out in the Executive Order. Indeed, the President's supplemental funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan includes up to 80 million dollars to close Guantanamo. Thirty million dollars would go to the Justice Department, to shut down the facilities, review detainee procedures, and fund future litigation. And the other $50 million would go to the Department of Defense, primarily to support the transfer of the detainees and associated personnel. However, we do not know - and neither does anyone else, within the Administration or outside of it - where these detainees would go.
"I am deeply troubled by this insubstantial and haphazard approach to important matters of national security. It is fashionable today to forget the days after September 11th. We remember the day itself quite well - the shock, the morning - but we seem to forget the resolve that came after. That resolve was born of our understanding that there was a global network of violent extremists, with substantial international support, dedicated to attacking the United States and its allies.
"Make no mistake -- these terrorist networks are highly dangerous. By now, Americans are probably familiar with the name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is a Guantanamo resident. Before his capture in 2003 and later transfer to Guantanamo, Mohammed was one of Al-Qaeda's top agents, and the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks. I believe this man belongs in Guantanamo. With his contacts and terrorist expertise, he would be a menace to the United States and its allies should he be set free. But he is only the operational face of the contagion.
"Also in custody at Guantanamo is Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, a lead operative in the September 11th plot. This terrorist could not obtain a US visa, prohibiting him from participating in the attacks directly. He was forced to remain in Germany, where he lived as a student. However, this did not stop him from acting as the primary communications liaison between the US-based hijackers and Al-Qaeda management in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Shortly after the September 11th attacks, he arrived in Afghanistan, where he was forced to flee when the Taliban fell. He was apprehended in 2002, and eventually transferred to Guantanamo.
"Terrorism runs in the family of another GITMO detainee. His uncle is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the September 11th attacks; his cousin is an incarcerated 1993 World Trade Center bomber. He served as a travel and financial facilitator for the 9/11 terrorists, and helped Al-Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. From 2002-2003, this individual prepared al-Qaeda members for travel to the United States, and later plotted attacks against Western targets in Karachi.
"A different detainee at Guantanamo was involved in plotting to kill the Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia, as well as in attacks on a series of Indonesian churches on Christmas Eve in the year 2000. Most famously, this terrorist helped plan the Bali bombings in October 2002, which killed over 200 people, including several Americans.
"Another notorious face residing at Guantanamo was the head of Al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian Peninsula. This terrorist saw combat within various insurgencies and later with the Taliban, before being instructed by Osama bin Laden to focus on terrorism around Yemen. He followed Bin Laden's orders. In October 2000, he successfully coordinated the attack of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. That attack, Mr. President, killed 17 American sailors.
"The Cole attack is the most well-known event in this individual's long career of terrorism, but it does not stop there. He coordinated efforts to kill U.S. personnel in Saudi Arabia; he planned car bomb attacks and assaults on oil tankers. He was also involved with a plot to crash a plane into a Western naval vessel in the UAE. In 2002, however, he was captured and ultimately sent to GITMO.
"These extremists are part of the Al-Qaeda A-Team of terrorists; and they have no business being released or transported to American soil. I describe these individuals today to put a face on this debate. The Al-Qaeda members detained in Guantanamo are the worst of the worst. They are unrepentant, they are unpredictable, and are still dangerous. So, if not Guantanamo, where should these unrepentant terrorists reside?
"One option would be for our international allies to help with their detainment. I know that the Administration has been trying to persuade the Europeans to accept custody of some of the detainees. Attorney General Holder is in fact discussing this issue with European officials this week. On Wednesday, he will be making a speech in Berlin about Guantanamo, and I hope he has some good news. Unfortunately, there has not been much to date.
"When the President met with European leaders in early April, he also asked for help in resettling the detainees. They agreed to help - with one. We should perhaps count that as a victory, since many national leaders have said thanks but no thanks, or remained completely noncommittal. For example, Austria's interior minister has rejected accepting detainees flat-out. I am not surprised.
"Despite all the international angst about Guantanamo, most nations recognize that these detainees are very dangerous men. Our time is not unlimited, since the Administration's self-imposed January 2010 deadline for transferring these individuals is coming closer. In the absence of radically increased international cooperation, the Administration will thus be forced to release the remaining detainees, or keep them on US soil. And those are possibilities that I, like many Nebraskans, am particularly concerned about.
"Two of the sites being considered are Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and the United States Penitentiary Maximum Security facility in Colorado, known as ADX Florence. Both are far too close to Nebraska for comfort - both within 250 miles of my home state of Nebraska. This is likely a non-starter with my constituents, and for good reason.
"Thus, last week, I sent a letter to Attorney General Holder asking to be informed if any of the detainees were to be moved within 400 miles of Nebraska. I will not allow my home state to be endangered by the proximity of unrepentant al-Qaeda terrorists.
"Other Senators and their constituents are likely to have similar concerns. In 2007, the Senate rejected moving GITMO detainees to U.S. soil. The Senate spoke loud and clear in an overwhelming 94-3 vote against moving GITMO prisoners to our shores. Or releasing them into our society. I do not believe the sentiment in this body has changed today.
"And the last option that I will mention -- releasing them into the American population -- seems unthinkable, if not absurd. However, if they are transferred into the American judicial system, their release is a possibility...And this option is simply unacceptable.
"The 80 million dollars requested by the Administration to close Guantanamo, and the Executive Order signed to that effect, are troubling. In a dangerous world, facilities like those at Guantanamo are a necessity that we cannot change simply by waiving a magic wand and wishing it so. With about 270 days left before its proposed closure date, it is clear the Administration still has no plan for its demise. That is a gamble that the American people cannot afford."