Long a critic of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith embraced President Barack Obama’s announcement Tuesday of a proposal to shut down the detention facility that has housed suspected militants since 2002.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Smith (D-Bellevue). “It makes clear what needs to be done and that the president is prepared and has a plan to do it.”
Smith for several years has been using amendments to the defense budget to force his colleagues to debate the merits of retaining a diminishing number of detainees at an expensive facility off the U.S. mainland.
“We’re down under a hundred inmates at Guantanamo. The plan is simple. For the ones designated as a not risk, find countries to transfer them to. For the others, find a place to put them in the U.S. and make that transition.”
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Smith’s measures failed, but he persisted because he views the prison as “an international eyesore that undercuts our national security, damages our credibility with our international partners and is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.”
He brought credibility to arguments against the detention facility because he is the senior-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, a position that makes him a national leader on defense issues.
His counterpart on the committee, Republican chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, has pledged to hold a hearing on Obama’s proposal.
However, Thornberry said the report the White House released is thin on essential details, such as where Obama would send the 30 to 60 detainees who are unlikely to be released and transferred to other countries.
“It suggests to me that the president is more interested in fulfilling a campaign promise at any cost, than in transparently addressing the risk associated with bringing terrorists to the United States. And this should be worrisome — after all, this is the president who has consistently underestimated the threat Islamic extremists pose to America,” Thornberry said in a news release.
Smith said he also wants to read those details from the White House, but he urged lawmakers to make a closure of the prison easier by lifting bans on transferring detainees onto American soil and by ending restrictions that prohibit the government from preparing prisons to house suspected militants at Guantanamo Bay.