“As far as I’m concerned every last one of them can rot in Hell, but as long as they don’t do that they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.” – U.S. Senator Tom Cotton
I don’t know if it was just me, or if it was everyone, but the room seemed oddly quiet after Senator Cotton said these 28 words at today’s Senate hearing on Guantanamo. Behind me were dozens of high school students, there for some kind of civics lesson. In front of me were protestors in orange jumpsuits, seated and rapt. For the moment, we were all quiet.
Then the hearing continued. Over nearly two and a half hours, the talk turned again and again to threats, and national security, and there was a different sort of silence: a silence about the human cost of Guantanamo.
In the entire hearing, there was never a single mention of human rights or human dignity – not from the senators or the government witnesses.
And there was never an acknowledgment of the injustice suffered by men like Shaker Aamer, who has never been charged with any crime, who was cleared for transfer years ago, and who still languishes indefinitely at Guantanamo after nearly 13 years.
Instead, there was ignorance and outright indifference to the facts.
“Common sense would tell us that if you’re still in Guantanamo Bay after all these years, you’re still a high risk threat…We wouldn’t have kept them that long.” – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
The hearing was on a new Senate bill that will effectively block the executive branch’s ability to transfer all or nearly all of the 122 men at Guantanamo, including the 54 men that a government panel cleared for transfer years ago.
But the bill is just a symptom of a larger mania: the rhetoric of fear and hate that I heard was really about keeping Guantanamo open forever.
“In my opinion the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now” – U.S. Senator Tom Cotton
Senator McCain, chair of the committee, has long said he supports closing Guantanamo. Yet he is supporting the Senate bill that would effectively halt Guantanamo transfers. And today, he said he was supporting the legislation because the administration had failed to provide him a plan for how to close Guantanamo.
But if Guantanamo doesn’t close, then what is the alternative plan? Apparently, it is that the 122 men still there should just “rot,” as Senator Cotton put it, until they die. And it is that the prison remains open indefinitely — for any new prisoners captured off the “global battlefield” — in a war that by its terms could last forever.