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Senate urged to close Guantánamo and bring terror suspects to US

The president of Human Rights First, which has campaigned to shut down Guantánamo, testified at the hearing, the first time in five years the issue has been debated by Judiciary Committee members.

By Staff writer / July 24, 2013

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., right, accompanied by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, during the Senate subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights & Human Rights' hearing on the future of prisoners at the Guantanamo Detention Center.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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Terror suspects being held at the Guantánamo prison camp should be sent home or brought to the United States for trial or continued open-ended detention in American prisons, a Senate subcommittee was told Wednesday.

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The recommendation came from the president of the Washington-based group Human Rights First, which has long campaigned to shut down the terror prison camp at the US naval base in Cuba.

“It is a risk-management exercise, and the risk is manageable,” Elisa Massimino told the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

“This is something on which the president and Congress have to work together,” she said. “Congress needs to trust the commander-in-chief to make these decisions.”

The hearing marked the first time in five years the issue has been debated by members of the Judiciary Committee. But it remains unclear whether the hearing reflects a genuine shift in momentum toward closure of the controversial prison camp, or whether it was just an opportunity for debate.

President Obama pledged as a candidate five years ago that closing Guantánamo would be among his first actions if elected president. But Congress responded by imposing a series of restrictions that made it impossible for his administration to follow through with the promise.

Now, some members of Congress are hopeful that a new effort to close the prison camp will take root.

“It is time to end this sad chapter in our history,” Sen. Dick Durban (D) of Illinois said at the start of the hearing. “Eleven years is too long.”

While several Democratic members of the subcommittee participated in the hearing, only one Republican, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, attended.

Senator Cruz does not support the closure of Guantánamo. “President Obama tells us the war on terror is over and we can now take a holiday,” he said. “I don’t believe the facts justify that rosy assessment.”

Cruz accused those favoring the closing of Guantánamo of pushing a utopian fiction that the released detainees would go home, lay down their arms, and embrace global peace.

“We have seen in Boston, Benghazi, and Fort Hood that radical terrorism remains a real and live threat,” he said.

At issue is what to do with the 166 detainees who remain at the Guantánamo detention camp. Most of the detainees have been held at the camp without charge or trial since it opened in early 2002. In protest more than 100 of them have participated in a five-month hunger strike.

Ms. Massimino said her organization had developed an exit strategy. She urged the White House to develop a comprehensive plan and to use the ongoing debate over the National Defense Authorization Act to authorize the transfer of detainees to the US for prosecution or continued detention.

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