Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) promised to keep the Guantanamo Bay military prison open and send captured terrorists there if he is elected president the same day that President Obama announced his plan to close the detention center before he leaves office.
"You wake up this morning to the news that the president is planning to close Guantanamo, maybe even giving it back to the Cuban government," Rubio told a crowd of supporters on Tuesday. "This makes no sense to me. Number one, we're not giving back an important naval base to an anti-American Communist dictatorship. And number two, we're not going to close Guantanamo."
Rubio argued that the U.S. should not be releasing the Guantanamo detainees now because they are "enemy combatants … terrorists of foreign terrorist organizations, many of whom as soon as you release them join the fight against us."
Critics of Obama's plan to close Guantanamo cite that the recidivism rate for released detainees who return to terrorist activities is 30 percent, a figure they believe is too high to risk moving terrorists out of the country. Opponents of the president also argue Guantanamo is necessary to house enemy combatants who are members of al Qaeda and other jihadist groups to remove them from the battlefield and gain intelligence from them.
"Not only are we not going to close Guantanamo, [but] when I am president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they’re not getting a court hearing in Manhattan, they’re not going to be sent to Nevada. They’re going to Guantanamo, and we are going to find out everything they know," Rubio said.
The Florida Senator was referencing Obama's statement Tuesday that many suspected terrorists, including the Boston Marathon Bomber, are "all convicted in our Article Three courts and are now behind bars here in the United States" rather than being sent to the military prison.
Obama laid out his plan to close Guantanamo by transferring many of the 91 remaining detainees to the custody of foreign countries and moving those who remain, considered too dangerous to go abroad, to the U.S. homeland.
The Pentagon is looking at possibly housing the latter group of detainees either in the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado; the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas; and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
It is currently illegal to move Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil, but Obama is hoping Congress will change the law so he can move his plan forward.
The president said in his statement that Guantanamo remaining open goes against American values and serves as a primary recruiting tool for terrorists.
Experts have disputed the latter point, arguing that Guantanamo plays a minor role in jihadist propaganda, and Gen. John Kelly, who recently retired as the chief of Southern Command, told reporters last month that detainees at Guantanamo receive exceptional care.
Other Republican presidential candidates and members of Congress have joined Rubio in denouncing the prospect of closing Guantanamo, indicating the president will have a tough political fight in getting his plan implemented.