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May 20, 2009

Johanns Votes To Block Funding For Closure of Guantanamo

Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Mike Johanns today voted in favor of an amendment to the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act to prevent any funding from being used to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The amendment also bars funding the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees to the United States. Johanns co-sponsored the amendment, which passed 90-6.

"The Senate today has made its position clear: the security and safety of our nation comes before all else," Johanns said. "Having seen the facilities at Guantanamo first-hand, I am certain it is the best facility to house these detainees and attempts to close it are based more on political posturing than real life circumstances. Closing Guantanamo and transferring terrorists to U.S. soil would place undue financial, security, and psychological burdens on the American communities that would be forced to house them."

Senator Johanns spoke on the Senate floor yesterday to detail his experience at Guantanamo and to caution against closing the facility. His remarks are below. The Senate is expected to vote on the final bill on Thursday.

Senator Johanns' Remarks As Prepared for Delivery:

"I rise today to commend President Obama on his recent decision to continue military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. The decision shows the President's realistic assessment of the value of these commissions. Resuming them will also ensure that justice will be brought to the suspected terrorists currently awaiting trial.

"The President has also shown an invigorating commitment to winning the war in Afghanistan, and he has resisted brash decisions to exit Iraq before the security situation there has fully stabilized. However, I must temper my comments with an admonition: the President should reverse his order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

"We are all very familiar now with the President's Executive Order, signed in January, announcing the closure of the prison within one year. To say the Executive Order is short on detail is an understatement. We have learned that the Justice Department is reviewing the cases of the individual detainees and that the President would like to move these detainees somewhere else. That is about all the Executive Order tells us.

"Approximately two hundred forty detainees are now being held at Guantanamo. The Administration claims not every detainee is a terrorist, and that a few are kept at Guantanamo simply because other countries have been slow to accept them. Let me tell you -- that speaks volumes about the character and fitness for society of these detainees. Other countries are literally dragging their feet in accepting them. In April, the president of France famously agreed to accept one detainee. A number of countries, such as Germany and Lithuania, have said only that they will consider accepting detainees, despite the Attorney General's round-the-world-tour to ask our allies to accept more.

"But let's assume that the Administration's projection that only half of the detainees are what they consider terrorists. That's still one hundred twenty terrorists who would be brought to facilities on our soil. One hundred twenty terrorists who would entice their brothers-in-arms worldwide to make every effort to break them out of jail or at least wreak havoc on the places they are jailed. One hundred twenty terrorists whose trials and hearings will cause community lock downs every time they are transported.

"Last Friday, I had the opportunity to visit the prison at Guantanamo. Having seen the facilities, I am more confident than ever that we should keep Guantanamo operating. On my visit, I saw first-hand the treatment detainees receive there. The facilities there rival any federal penitentiary in the United States.

"Detainees receive three meals per day that adhere to cultural dietary requirements. They stay in climate-controlled housing with beds, flushing toilets, and all of the hygiene items you and I use -- toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. Just as importantly, they have the opportunity to worship uninterrupted, and they are provided prayer beads, rugs, and copies of the Quran.
The Muslim call to prayer is observed in the camps five times a day, followed by 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to practice their faith.

"Detainees also have the means to send and receive mail; in fact, more than 90,000 pieces of mail have been sent to or by detainees at Guantanamo since 2003. They have access to satellite television and a library with more than 12,000 items in 19 languages, including magazines, DVDs, and Arabic newspapers. I'll bet their big screen television is bigger than the one in the average American home.

"Most remarkable, though, is the medical care provided to detainees at Guantanamo. Most people don't realize this, but detainees receive the same quality of medical care as the U.S. service members who guard them. They have access to medical care any time they need it, and there is a two-to-one detainee to medical staff ratio. They get preventative care such as vaccinations and cancer screenings. And in addition to routine medical care, detainees have been treated for pre-existing medical conditions, even to the extent of receiving cancer treatment or prosthetic limbs. This is likely better treatment than they would be receiving in their home countries.

"The courtroom constructed at Guantanamo was designed specifically for the use of military commissions. Let me state unequivocally -- it is state-of-the-art. I don't think there is another courtroom anywhere in the world that has better equipment than at Guantanamo.

"And to top it all off, earlier this year the Vice Chief of Naval Operations reviewed conditions at Guantanamo and issued a report that detainees' confinement conformed with the Geneva Conventions. Despite public perception, no detainee has ever been water-boarded at Guantanamo.

"Why would we throw away this two hundred million dollar state-of-the-art facility just to meet an artificial deadline in 2010 that originated from an uninformed campaign promise? These are dangerous people being held at Guantanamo -- not just a couple of teenagers who robbed the corner convenience store. There are twenty-seven members of al Qaeda's leadership cadre currently housed at the prison, plus ninety-five lower-level al Qaeda operatives, which combined is about half of the prison population at Guantanamo. There are also scores of Taliban members and foreign fighters.

"A Rasmussen poll released in April of this year indicates that seventy-five percent of Americans oppose releasing Guantanamo detainees in the United States, while only thirteen percent support that. I'm willing to bet the numbers opposing the transfer of prisoners to the United States would skyrocket even higher if you told them that terrorist detainees would be held at a prison near their town.

"As if the President has a plan to move these detainees from Guantanamo, the supplemental funding request for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars includes up to eighty million dollars to carry out the executive order. Fifty million dollars of that funding would go to the Department of Defense to actually transfer the detainees from the prison. But we still have not been told where these detainees will go. This lack of a plan, or lack of transparency about the plan, deeply disturbs me.

"Alarmingly, two of the sites on U.S. soil that some speculate could house transferred detainees are Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and the supermax facility in Colorado. Both facilities are within two hundred and fifty miles of the Nebraska border. That alarms me and alarms my constituents. That's why I sent a letter to Attorney General Holder on April 23 requesting a personal briefing before any decision is made to move current Guantanamo detainees within four hundred miles of Nebraska's borders.

"But simply being notified that detainees are about to be transferred nearby will not suffice. That amounts to telling the passengers to hold on before the bus crashes. It is for these reasons that I believe we should deny funding to transfer detainees and, in fact, not close the prison at Guantanamo at all. And it is for these reasons that I support S. 370, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Safe Closure Act of 2009, introduced by the senior Senator from Oklahoma.

"This amendment prohibits federal funds from being used to transfer any detainee at Guantanamo to any facility in the United States or its territories. It also prohibits any federal funds from being used for the construction or enhancement of any facility in the United States in order to house any such detainee. Finally, it prohibits any federal funds from being used to house or otherwise incarcerate any such detainee in the United States or its territories. It will keep our communities safe by preventing terrorists from being thrust into our cities and towns.

"Finally, Mr. President, I will close by reminding you that, in 2007, the Senate voted ninety-four to three to express its opposition to moving Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil or releasing them into American society. President Obama's Executive Order to close the prison at Guantanamo demonstrates his intention to ignore the will of the Senate and of the American people. Despite an overwhelming vote, the Administration apparently still plans to bring terrorist detainees from Guantanamo to prison facilities near our communities.

"I hope we have the opportunity to vote on the wisdom, or lack thereof, for closing Guantanamo again this week. I urge the President to reconsider his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo, and I encourage my colleagues to support the amendment to deny funding for closing this prison. I look forward to a robust debate on this issue as we delve into consideration of the Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental.

"Amendments will be offered on this important national security issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that some of the worst terrorists in the world are not moved to the heartland of our great country. Such an action is unacceptable and unthinkable to the American public; we must yield to their wisdom, and hear their call. Anything less would be a grave mistake.

"I yield the floor."

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