Eye On Boise

Risch: Keep Guantanamo open, hold detainees indefinitely

Sen. Jim Risch (Betsy Russell)
Sen. Jim Risch (Betsy Russell)

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch visited the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on Monday, and he said today that he believes it should stay open indefinitely, and the detainees there should be held indefinitely - though President Barack Obama pledged shortly after he was elected to shut the facility down; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. "It's been a matter of constant debate in Washington, D.C., constant debate in the media and constant debate in the international community," said Risch, who serves on the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees. Risch said conditions at the detention camp are far better than they were shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when they caused international outrage. "The orange jumpsuits are gone. Camp X-Ray is closed," Risch said. "The pendulum has swung way back the other way."

Detainees at Guantanamo now "get very nourishing meals," Risch said, and "the sensitivity toward their cultural and religious practices is very high." Risch said, "When I was there it was 106 degrees and humidity was higher, but once you entered the facility, it was air-conditioned and kept at a very moderate temperature. ... It's a whole different ballgame than it was 10 years ago."

The initial facility there, opened shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, was open-air and tin-roofed. It's now a modern prison facility. Guantanamo now houses 171 men, mostly from Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia; at its height, it had more than 700. "They're people who were taken on the battle field and have important information," Risch said. "In fact, they are prisoners of war - they were picked up during a war." They may not have been uniformed soldiers, Risch said, but he said the war on terrorism is a different kind of war. "We have to defend ourselves," he said. "The hostilities are ongoing."

Mason Clutter, counsel to the Rule of Law program at the Constitution Project, a bipartisan Washington, D.C. think tank that tracks issues related to Guantanamo, said for her organization, "It's not a matter of closing the facility or keeping it open - it's more of a matter of ending the harmful policies that have come out of Guantanamo, the policies of using military commissions to try these individuals, as well as the policy of detention without charge. ... There may be room to hold, pursuant to the laws of war, some of the individuals who are at Guantanamo Bay, but certainly not all of them."

Clutter said the administration in 2010 identified 36 of the detainees as appropriate for prosecution either in military commissions or civilian federal court, while it identified 47 for indefinite detention without charge. But in December, Congress voted to ban transfers of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. locations or to third countries, except under very narrow circumstances. The Constitution Project maintains that detainees at Guantanamo aren't receiving appropriate due process. "It's against the rule of law," she said. "It also damages the U.S. reputation abroad."

Risch said Obama has offered no appropriate alternative to Guantanamo. "There is no alternative on the table of what they're going to do," he said.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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