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Op-Ed: Congressman Cook: We Must Keep Guantanamo Open

February 26, 2016

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Tuesday, Spanish and Moroccan police arrested a terrorist cell recruiting fighters for the Islamic State. One of those arrested was a former Guantanamo detainee who once fought in Afghanistan against US troops. The Spanish police described him as “a leader who was trained in handling weapons, explosives, and military tactics.” It would be bad enough if this were an isolated incident of a Guantanamo detainee returning to terrorism, but it’s not. The Director of National Intelligence recently confirmed that at least 116 released detainees have returned to terrorism, with an even higher number suspected of returning to terrorism.


My number one priority in Congress is protecting Americans and keeping our country safe. Keeping terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba is a core national security issue, and nearly all of Congress agrees with me. That’s why two overwhelmingly bipartisan bills made it illegal to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States. The President signed both into law. That’s why the President’s latest proposes to close Guantanamo and bring terrorists to American communities is illegal and serves only to divide our nation.

Even if closing Guantanamo wasn’t illegal, is it even a good idea? Those held in Guantanamo are considered to be the “worst of the worst,” the most hard core of terrorists. Regardless of how we feel about them, these terrorists only want one thing: to kill Americans and cause destruction. Bringing terrorists like this to America, regardless of where we keep them, makes us less safe and more vulnerable to another attack. If we decide to close Guantanamo, it should only happen if it makes Americans safer, not to satisfy a cheap campaign pledge. Plainly stated, Americans are safer with terrorists secured at Guantanamo, far from American communities.

Moving these detainees would be a colossal waste of money. Guantanamo is not just a prison, but a highly secure military base. Trying to recreate the security and facilities provided at Guantanamo in some other prison would be costly and inadequate. Even our highest security prisons here in the United States would require millions of dollars to upgrade them to meet Guantanamo’s standards. Spending money to house terrorists in a less secure location within the United States is not just wasteful, it’s foolish.

Some argue that closing Guantanamo would take away a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists. If closing Guantanamo would somehow stop terrorists from wanting to attack America, I’d be the first to vote to close it, but that’s just wishful thinking. Terrorists want to attack America because of our values and commitment to freedom, not because we lock some of their worst in Guantanamo. Putting these terrorists in American prisons with convicted criminals would most likely increase their recruiting, not decrease it. Terrorists were waging war on America before we established the prison at Guantanamo and terrorists will remain at war with us if it’s closed.

Closing Guantanamo doesn’t make us safer. Transferring the detainees to unstable nations like Yemen doesn’t make us safer, either. Even after years of detention, detainees held at Guantanamo still want to attack the United States and kill Americans. Thirty percent of released Guantanamo detainees go on to commit further terrorist acts and those that have been released thus far were not even the “worst of the worst.” Integrating these terrorists into American prisons puts ordinary citizens in harm’s way. We can’t let that happen. We must keep Guantanamo open, we must keep terrorists behind bars, and we must place the security of the American people over politics.

Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.