Prematurely closing the controversial detention facility at Guantanamo Bay would release the most dangerous terrorists currently held by the United States and pose a grave national security threat, according to one representative who recently visited the facility.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) discussed the conditions and legal status of the 166 Guantanamo detainees at an American Enterprise Institute event Tuesday.
More than 100 of those prisoners have been protesting for their release by participating in hunger strikes, leading President Barack Obama to renew his call for congressional authorization to close the facility in a May national security speech.
Pompeo said the president’s latest push ignores the histories of those detained at Guantanamo. Remaining prisoners include terrorists linked to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, leaders of the Taliban, mid-level al Qaeda officials, and operatives from various countries who have plotted attacks.
"There’s a reason the president’s promise to close Guantanamo has not occurred," he said. "The challenge is that the detainees at Guantanamo who remain are all individuals who America considers to be dangerous. The easy cases are absolutely behind us."
Critics of the indefinite detention of terrorists at Guantanamo cite the Obama administration’s previous declaration that at least 60 prisoners are cleared for transfer to other countries. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have designated the facility the "gulag of our times."
However, Pompeo said any of the proposed solutions for scuttling Guantanamo and transferring the prisoners leaves the United States with a difficult "option set."
About a fifth of the detainees who return to Yemen rejoin terrorist groups, he said.
Obama recently announced the removal of a self-imposed ban on transfers to the country where leaders have shown a willingness to cooperate against terrorism but al Qaeda affiliates linger.
Eliminating terrorist leaders with drones, a practice Obama has dramatically accelerated, deprives security agencies of the opportunity to gather intelligence, he said. And there is scant political will to bring the detainees to the United States, he added.
"Your option is to kill them—where you can get no information—or bring them back to the U.S. where you’ll Mirandize them, and you’ll additionally get no information where you can prevent terrorist threats," he said.
Pompeo also spoke about the conditions at Guantanamo, stating bluntly, "It’s a detention camp." But the detainees have access to a lot of services that are denied in most prisoner of war camps, he argued.
"They do have television stations that they can watch, and if they want to behave in a way consistent with the rules, they can operate in an area where they can meet and gather together," he said.
"They’ve got exercise facilities, and their religious rights are being observed rigorously."
Pompeo did offer some rare praise for Obama in what he viewed as the president’s implicit policy toward Guantanamo.
"He’s kept the facility open," he said. "He’s kept it secure. For that I applaud him, and I only hope that his rhetoric is just that."