Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show Friday in a previously taped interview, defended the president’s plan, saying that Mr. Obama had no choice but to close the prison at Guantanamo because “the name itself is a condemnation” of U.S. anti-terrorism strategy.
Congressional Republicans, however, came out swinging against the proposed plan to place some detainees in highly secure facilities inside the United States. “Most Americans don’t want them in this country, period, especially when we have a state-of-the-art facility at Guantanamo — better and safer than anything we have” in the United States, said GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.
“No good purpose is served by allowing known terrorists, who trained at terrorist training camps, to come to the U.S. to live among us,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
“Guantanamo has worked very well,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after President Obama’s speech. “I’m not sure this is broke and needs fixing.”
In response, Gates asserted that Mr. Obama has “no interest whatsoever in releasing publicly detainees who might come back to harm Americans.” He added that that “we have many terrorists in United States’ prisons today,” and decried “fear-mongering about this.”
During his speech Thursday at the National Archives, President Obama stressed that “nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal Supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.”
President Obama may find support for his efforts from two previous rivals: Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Both have supported closing the prison. “The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational. We have done this before,” Graham said this week. “But it is my belief that you need a plan before you close Gitmo.”
But the debate over how to meet President Obama’s January deadline for closing the Guantanamo prison camp is unlikely to be settled in the near future. Earlier this week, the Senate rejected an $80 million request from the White House for funds to close the prison.