Sen. James Webb, D-Va., went on the record this past weekend saying that the controversial military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba may be, after all, the best venue to try those remaining detainees accused with terror crimes committed outside the U.S.
Webb told George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” “I think that the people who have been held in Guantanamo are being charged essentially for acts of international terror, for acts of war, and they don’t belong in judicial system, and they don’t belong in our jails.”
Stephanopoulos challenged Webb that he sounded as if he had done a 180-degree turn on the issue – just as President Barack Obama has.
“I have an AP story from April 2007 where you said — it says that you told reporters that detainees should either be declared prisoners of war or charged in the American judicial system. We can’t just continue to hold people in limbo without charges for this period of time and still call ourselves Americans.”
While not disputing the quote, Webb assured the host that he always felt there was a place for Gitmo.
“If I said ‘charged in the American judicial system,’ I would mean under the traditions of the rules of evidence and these sorts of things. But my view has always been that we need to move these people forward,” Webb explained.
“We need to find those people who should be held accountable and hold them accountable. And people who have been held inappropriately should be released.
But I don’t believe that the situation with people in Guantanamo, as opposed to others who have conducted activities in the United States are the same,’ he continued.
“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases. These are cases against international law,” Webb added.
“These aren’t people who were in the United States, committing a crime in the United States. These are people who were brought to Guantanamo for international terrorism. I do not believe they should be tried in the United States,” he concluded.
When President Barack Obama decided to re-institute the military tribunals at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, much confusion was generated about which of the 241 detainees at the prison in Cuba will be tried, when they will be tried and where they will be tried.
With the President apparently sticking to his promise to shutter the facility by January, military law experts wonder how the cases against certain of the detainees can get underway and conclude before the close down date.
Webb had this to say about closing the Gitmo facility: “We should close down Guantanamo at the right time. I think what has happened is Guantanamo has become the issue rather than how we process these people who were detained there.
“Let’s process them the right rules of law, the right due process, within the constraints of how we have to handle these cases, with military intelligence and that sort of thing, but the facility is there at Guantanamo to do it. And then close it down,” he added.
As to his position on relaxing the January closing, Webb said: “I think we should defer to the judgment of the administration that is looking at this. I think we all are moving toward the right direction. But we shouldn’t be creating artificial timelines.”
On the issue that directly impacts his state — the 17 Chinese Uighurs detainees that have o have been ordered released by a federal court because the court determined that they were not a threat to the United States, Webb said that they should not be discharged into his state has proposed. “The answer is no,” he said empathically.
“The numbers that we’ve seen in my office are about 800 people have gone through Guantanamo,” he added. “The majority of those who have been released, we’re down to 220 to 240, so the majority of those that have been released have been released to third countries, not actually released out into the open…”
“This other [remaining] group deserves due process,” Webb argued. “I support what the president is doing on the military commissions, to have their cases examined, to see whether or not they should continue to be detained.”
As to the Chinese Uighurs, Webb said: “[T]hey accepted training from al-Qaida and as a result they have taken part in terrorism. I don’t believe they should come to the United States.”
In endorsing the military commissions as still the best tool to handle hardcore terror detainees, Webb is bucking a tide of sentiment from some liberal groups that flows in the opposite direction.
The ACLU: “These military commissions are inherently illegitimate, unconstitutional, incapable of delivering outcomes we can trust.” Human Rights Watch: “By resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda.” Human Rights First: “Reinventing commissions so deeply associated with Guantanamo Bay will merely add to the erosion of international confidence in American justice and provide more fodder for America’s enemies.”
In the pending military commissions cases, the government is seeking an additional 120-day continuance of the cases — while certain rule changes are reviewed by Congress and the administration continues to develop its legislative proposals.
Among other rule changes: Statements obtained using interrogation methods that constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment will no longer be admitted as evidence at a trial.
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