Cotton Warns Obama Will Risk Attacks on Homeland with Gitmo Closure

Argues terrorist detainees will ‘radicalize’ criminals in U.S. if moved stateside

Tom Cotton
Tom Cotton / AP

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said Tuesday that President Obama would risk attacks on the homeland by closing the military prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and bringing terrorist detainees to stateside prisons.

Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., during which he said Guantanamo will have to remain open so long as the United States remains in a "long war with Islamic jihad."

Cotton said closing Guantanamo would allow terrorist prisoners to spread the ideology of Islamic jihad to individuals in the United States and spur attacks.

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"Guantanamo enables us to isolate detainees who would otherwise seek to spread their ideology," Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said.

President Obama has been pushing to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since he took office, provoking resistance from Republican lawmakers. The Pentagon has been reviewing maximum security federal prisons in states such as Colorado, Kansas, and South Carolina to assess the costs of moving prisoners held at Guantanamo and deemed to dangerous to release to stateside facilities.

Cotton warned Tuesday that hardened criminals at these so-called supermax prisons could be "radicalized" by terrorists moved there from Guantanamo.

"Moving Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. would create a federal prison population that is more dangerous, more jihadist, and more costly," Cotton explained.

The Arkansas senator also predicted that terrorist detainees who are moved to stateside prisons and eventually released would be able to launch attacks inside the United States.

"If released from prisons, they will be able to conduct attacks on the homeland," Cotton said.

He further stated that 653 detainees have been released from Guantanamo over time, 196 of whom are either confirmed or expected to have "returned to the battlefield" to join radical Islamic terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State. This indicates that 30 percent of past Guantanamo prisoners have returned to terrorism.

Guantanamo currently hold 107 prisoners, most of whom Cotton described as "the worst of the worst, detainees so dangerous that their home countries will not take them."

The Republican lawmaker estimated that, given the rate of ex-prisoners returning to terrorism, no less than 32 of the current Guantanamo prisoners would join groups such as the Islamic State upon their release.

"[Closing Guantanamo] will put at least 32 more terrorists to threaten … our troops on the battlefield," Cotton emphasized.

While Congress has voted to stop the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, President Obama has threatened to use executive action to fulfill his campaign promise to close the prison.

"President Obama has shown a disturbing pension to ignore laws," Cotton said of the threat, adding that any such "brazen" use of executive action by Obama to shutter Guantanamo would invite a clash between the branches of government and trigger a fight over constitutional power.

It would also demonstrate to the American people Obama’s "cavalier willingness … to circumvent the constitutional order to achieve political ends," Cotton stated.

The Department of Defense intends to deliver a plan to Congress on how to close Guantanamo and move terrorist detainees to stateside facilities despite increasing concern from lawmakers about threats to the homeland in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack. The release of the plan was expected as early as mid-November, but the Obama administration has delayed it because of financial concerns. That document, among other things, will lay out cost assessments of transferring Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. facilities.

The administration has argued that Guantanamo is a "recruiting tool for extremists" and a "staple in extremist propaganda," an idea on which Cotton pushed back Tuesday.

"Terrorists attacked us before there existed a Guantanamo Bay detention facility and they will continue to attack us [if it is closed]," Cotton said.

Moreover, Cotton argued that Obama’s rhetoric has not "convinced the American people." According to a YouGov poll conducted in July, half of Americans want the United States to continue to operate the military prison. Only 27 percent want the government to shut it down.

Cotton said that maintaining Guantanamo remains in the "best interest of our national security" and is an "unpleasant but inescapable necessity" in the war against radical Islamic jihadists. He added that this war has "intensified" with the recent deadly terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

"We must recognize the broader scope of the long war that jihadists wage against us," Cotton concluded.