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May 21st, 2009
10:11 AM ET

Senator: U.S. can safely house terror detainees

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin tells CNN's John Roberts he believes the U.S. can safely house terror detainees."]

President Obama's plan to shut down the detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba hit a major road block yesterday. The Senate voted 90-6 on a measure that would stop detainees from being transferred to the United States. It also voted Tuesday to withhold funds to close down the facility. Meanwhile, the president will lay out his plan to close Gitmo in a major national security speech today.

Majority Whip Senator Dick Durbin voted against blocking the funds. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday.

John Roberts: You voted against blocking the funds although you do share some of the concerns of many of your colleagues. Why did you decide to vote against it and what do you think about those concerns? Are they valid?

Dick Durbin: There are two provisions. One of them blocked the funds and I could have voted for that because the president's plan has not been presented to us. There’s no need to appropriate the money at this point until we have his plan for the future of Guantanamo. The second provision, though, the one that troubled me, said we couldn't have any of these Guantanamo detainees brought to the United States to be held in a security facility. You can't try a person for a crime in the United States without holding them in a security facility. So, some of those who could be prosecuted – even successfully prosecuted – couldn't be prosecuted under the language of that amendment.

Roberts: So that puts you at odds with Senate Leader Harry Reid who said yesterday he didn't want the transfer of any detainees to the United States?

Durbin: We have a different point of view. I happen to believe if they're brought here to be put on trial, they obviously need to be held in a secure facility during the course of the trial and perhaps incarcerated afterwards. Presently today, we have 348 convicted terrorists in the prisons of the United States of America, and a large percentage of them are from overseas. They're being held safely and securely with no threat to the American people. I do believe we have to look at the bottom line here. The president is right in saying Guantanamo is more than a detention facility. It's become a symbol. And sadly, it’s become an organizing tool around the world for terrorism. The sooner that we bring Guantanamo to a close, the better.

Roberts: Yesterday before Congress, FBI Director Robert Mueller said it could be problematic to have Guantanamo detainees in American prisons – that they may get involved in gang activity, they may even recruit people to terrorism. Do you share those concerns?

Durbin: We asked the FBI after that testimony if the director was saying that you couldn't safely hold the Guantanamo detainee in a super max facility in the United States. And he said, no. He didn't say that. And obviously he wouldn't. There's never been an escape from one of those facilities in the United States. As to whether or not anyone being held in a prison, whether it's a gang banger from the streets of Chicago or New York, or someone involved in terrorism might have a network of friends to be worried about, of course we should worry about that. But let's be very candid about this. Closing Guantanamo is putting an end to something which is causing problems across the world. The United States has an image from Guantanamo that is not helping us win friends and win allies in the war on terror.

Roberts: In terms of bringing detainees to American shores, putting them on American soil, there's also this idea that was eliminated by Pentagon officials yesterday that if the United States doesn't agree to take some of these prisoners why would any other country around the world take them?

Durbin: Well that's a very obvious point. This notion that somehow we'll take these dangerous detainees and ship them all over the world, but wouldn't consider putting them even in a super max facility in the United States may be a little hard to sell to our allies and friends.

Roberts: So Senator Durbin, you say you agree with the provision to not give the president the $80 million he wants at the moment to close Guantanamo. He's going to make an appeal again today during this significant speech he's giving in which he'll again talk about the importance of closing Guantanamo. What do you want to hear from him today?

Durbin: Well, I think the president's going to start to lay out a plan. This is a complicated issue. And do remember that President Bush called for the closing of Guantanamo himself but couldn't get the job done, because it's extremely complicated. Let me just also add, I'm aware of one detainee who’s been there for seven years. A year ago, our government notified him that they had no charges against him. He could be released as soon as they found a country to send him to. We’ve been unable to. He continues to be held.

Roberts: It looks like the president will not outline the plan you're looking for today. So how long will you defer this money?

Durbin: Well I can tell you, this money should be deferred through this fiscal year, which goes to October 1st. I think that's a reasonable thing to do. I want to give the president time to work through this carefully. I do believe at the end of the day we'll see transition from the Guantanamo facility to a secure setting for detainees and the release of those for whom we have no charges and no suspicion.

Roberts: Will he be able to make that pledge of closing Guantanamo by January 22, 2010?

Durbin: I can't answer that. I really leave that in the hands of the president. It’s a tough job he’s been given. He's inherited a lot of challenges. I know he'll handle this well.

Filed under: Guantanamo
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. JHW

    I applaud Sen Durbin's stance on this issue. I am dreadfully disappointed by others in Congress, especially the democrats who were swayed by fear-mongering politics and their own re-election races.

    June 9, 2009 at 11:11 pm |
  2. Nilsa

    I'm not agree, this is like bringing your enemy to your house.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  3. TNL

    Placing the detainees in the general population of the prison system would be a good compromise. The torture freaks should be happy (imagine, fresh meat in the yard), and Guantanamo could be closed.

    May 22, 2009 at 9:55 am |
  4. Terry

    We most certainly could keep the GITMO detainees secure in the U.S. There is a perfectly good, nearly unused, supermax prison in Thomson, IL. And it would help the Illinois budget recover from the damage done by a former Governor.

    May 22, 2009 at 9:03 am |
  5. Lauren

    I am proud of Senator Dick Durbin. I am proud of President Obama too. After Obama comes out with his plan for the detainees today, I would fully support the detainees being brought into the U.S. in our supermax prisons. This is a much safer way; supermax prisons are incredibly more secure than Gitmo, because at a supermax isolated prison, they have silence for 23 hours a day. This prevents so much more possibilities of communications between detainees and their coconspirators overseas or even in the U.S. Then once we have them detained here, we can prosecute them in the U.S. with U.S. laws. We can isolate these criminals efficiently in a supermax prison, prosecute them by U.S. laws, and do so without torturing.

    We must not torture, keep our foreign relations strong, prosecute detainees with U.S. laws, and keep our country safe. I agree with President Obama and Senator Dick Durbin that this is the best way to keep our country truly safe.

    May 22, 2009 at 8:05 am |

    The worst U.S. TERRORIST who hasnt been convicted and imprisoned is DICK CHENEY ,who is responsible for more U.S. DEATHS than all the other terrorists combined.,including OSAMA BIN LADEN who has also been living comfortably at CHENEYs vacation HOUSE for the last 8years without a care in the WORLD..

    May 22, 2009 at 5:18 am |
  7. D

    Anyone who says "not in my state" is a coward, plain and simple. You have watched too many movies. Do you really think they can get out?? I mean what planet do you live on? It's a ridiculous argument. Send them to Columbus Ohio, that's whereI live. And I tell you what I won't lose a minute of sleep once they get here. The quicker we get this topic taken care of the faster we can take care of more important business.

    May 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  8. Ottis P

    Gitmo detainees need to be relocated to the Crawford Ranch where Dick Cheney can stand guard with some bird shot, problem solved.

    May 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
  9. Mountain Dude

    What kind of mouth breather would put these guys in general detention. We have SuperMax to isolate prisoners that are a threat. They don’t torture they just isolate people and they don’t allow any noise and they are in solitary 23 hours a day. These prisons exist that can contain anyone form John Gotti with all his stateside connections to Bin Laden. Boy wouldn't it be great to have Bin Laden up in SuperMax! I live for the day I can laugh at that dork as he is turned from Islamic militant idol to common criminal. We can pull him out every once and a while to get a look at him like we do Manson now and then put the bad monkey back in the cage.

    May 21, 2009 at 6:38 pm |
  10. TRESOR

    Hey Barbara, some people responded to you already and i just to add something else. You seem to really want know why care about what other think. Take a simple case in your family wen there is an issue what do you? You walk alone or you ask to other members what they think? When the US launched this pathetic War on Terror on baseless clues like weapons of M D that were never found or existed, they asked support for other countries. These countries like the US had their military men and women killed there for nothing, just because Bush and Cheney wanted to have a CRUSADE war as bush put it at the beginning. This brought Guantanamo and US lied to its allies about everything concerning the war. Also by the way, we belong to the globe, we are part or this world and we can't just go in a sovereign country and just start bombing and killing. We are not the super Military power / Peace maker in the world nor we have to impose our will to everyone. Think again about your family.
    So closing Guantanamo needs again that some of our allies agree to help by taking some of these guys in and if we can't take some ourselves, why would they? We also signed some treaties regarding human rights and we have/MUST respect that.

    May 21, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  11. joyce

    If our prisons are not safe enough to house these guys, then whoever is making this claim needs to identify what the problems are and get those problems fixed immediately. We already house terrorists in our prisons, so we are already at risk if it is not safe.
    The WTC was bombed in 1993, and under the Clinton administration, they were captured, stood trial, were convicted and sentenced to prison.
    Cheney seems to be the only one claiming our prisons are not safe enough. I think he's worried he will end up in the same federal prison as some of these guys, which would be very dangerous to him personally.

    May 21, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  12. Neechtey

    Barbara, The reason that the US (and Obama) has to care about what the rest of the world thinks about Gitmo, climate change,etc is not that he cares more about foreigners. In order to get security, trade terms,etc that work for the US from other states in the world the US must use influence. Gitmo is bad publicity for the US in other countries and makes the US less influencial with other goverments because many people in other countries with differing views look on the US unfavorably just for this prison and thus pressure their governments not to cooperate with the US on things that the US wants/needs them to cooperate on. The US is not the only democracy in the world where the electorate has some power to persuade politicians to act for fear of losing elections – most of Western Europe has this in common with the US. This is pragmatism and therefore makes sense for the US to get what it wants to help the American people.

    May 21, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  13. MJ

    JeffM – So if we stop ticking off terrorists they will stop attacking us??? I don't think so. they will fly planes into our buidlings no matter what we do. they hate us for who we are. Our way of life, anything western is evil. Put them in chicago for all I care. just keep them out of my state.

    May 21, 2009 at 3:42 pm |
  14. raj

    we do not need these terrorists in the jails in the US not because they will escape but because we do not want them to spread their views to other inmates in the prison system and in this country.

    Prison is where criminals go for additional training and contacts

    May 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm |
  15. Shadysider

    If having terrorists and their sympathizers in our country is a national security threat, then HOW have we been able to keep the blind sheik, Omar Abdul-Rahman, in custody inside the continental U.S. since 1993 without having our security compromised? Oh, that's right. We are able to house Islamic extremists without further incident. This shouldn't be a political issue.

    May 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  16. Ed

    Better yet, Put those detainees on one of the many "Mothballed" naval ships. Put them a few miles out to sea. Within territorial waters, yet not on dry land. let the Muslim-sympathizers whine when they cannot protest and put on a hate-filled spectacle outside the prison walls . You sure the hell would have an easy time dealing with visitors! and should they revolt or take hostages, you sink their "prison" to the bottom of the sea.....

    May 21, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  17. Ed

    Thank the retarded sheeple that bought into the "yes we can" crap. If the administration wants to house the detainees, do it in good ol' Washington DC!! I'm sure that would go over well, don't you? I'm sure all the "brave" politicians would be fine with that. Keep them out of America! Put them in D.C. Considering so much sewage, lies and criminal acts come out of our Capitol on a daily basis, the would feel right at home!
    God forbid those parasitic rats in Washington experience some of the Manure it dumps on the average American. Let their children suffer, not mine.

    May 21, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  18. elizabeth Sacramento

    re GITMO: Firstly, the FORMER veep is just that. Secondly, if anyone thinks we can't handle the detainees & figure out how to prosecute them, they don't know what they're talking about. Thirdly, the concern over money is absurd–we'll all pay for however it works. Lastly, Democrats voted Obama in & our democratic representatives should BACK HIM UP. If they don't want to, they should join the Republicans who can't find their butts with both hands!

    May 21, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  19. Dave

    The real issue is not warehousing radical islamists in our stateside prisons. The real issue is placing them in our prison population. Once placed there, extremist ideaology would be taught to the most violent members of our society and upon release they would be inclined to act on them.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  20. Harold

    We should send half the detainees to Midland, TX and the other half to Casper, WY.

    All kidding aside, we took these people, we are now responsible for them. If the courts have told us to realease certain prisoners and we cannot find another country to take them, we must take them here. If they are to be tried, then the finest jails and finest justice system in the world, our own, can handle the issue.

    Any other position is fearful and un-American lacking confidence in our Constitution, our republic, and the rule of law. Gitmo detention is an embarassment and disgrace. Demanding it remain open or that another overseas detention center be made to house these prisoners is reprehensible.

    Congress has acted shamefully. After granting the prior administration so much latitude to do harm to our nation, we are due more just and courageous action from our representatives.

    May 21, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  21. eddie slabaugh

    Good idea – Ship them to Illinois!

    May 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  22. Smart

    He Dick wants them so bad put them in his state and see if he gets re-elected....I dont want them in my state!

    May 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  23. Rob

    When George Will and Dick Durbin are in 100% agreement on an issue, there must be something worth listening to...

    I agree with Durbin, and I agree with Senate Democrats who just told the Executive Branch to have a plan before they come asking for money. Thank God. The Republicans during George Bush's monarchical reign, never had the guts. It's about time the legislative branch started to grab back some of their power. I'm a huge fan of President Obama, but not a huge fan of unlimited executive power.

    Want to know where to send the detainees we can't house in supermax prisons? Send them back to face justice in Iraq. There must be more than a few people in Iraq who are blaming Al Qaeda and the Taliban for getting us fired up about war. Shouldn't be hard to find a village or two that will know exactly what to do with them....

    May 21, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  24. Jared

    Is anyone else in Illinois sick and tired of Dick Durbin? We really need to vote this guy out next time around....

    May 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  25. JeffM

    Barbara wrote: "Why should we care what other countries think about us? I mean really... "

    Well, Barbara, when you upset some foreigners too much, they do things like fly planes into your buildings. Of course, if this doesn't bother you ...

    May 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm |
  26. Mountain Dude

    23 hour a day silence and isolation may be hard to deal with but it isn't torture, but boy does it work well. They have had terrorists singing like birds in SuperMax just to talk to somebody.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm |
  27. MT

    It may be my opinion alone, why do we care whether the countries of these "wrongly accused misunderstood detainees" want them back or not.

    Apologize for the inconveniencing the dysfunctional terrorist nation(s)they came from and send them back. The next time we get into this mess shoot them on-sight and send them back in a box.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  28. Mountain Dude

    Bring them to Colorado, McVeigh begged to be executed after spending 23 hours a day in solitary at SuperMax.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  29. Mountain Dude

    Senators that have no faith in the law of the United States do not inspire any trust in our system of law. This is about the worst excuse for a Senator that I can imagine. Fix the law if it is broken, it is your job dimwit.

    May 21, 2009 at 12:06 pm |
  30. Tom

    The Republican Party is once again playing the fear card on the US public. Our high security prisons are more than adequate to hold the inmates at Gitmo. They've been holding inmates like Charles Manson & Tim McVeigh (prior to execution) for years without issue. On top of that, does anyone actually believe the gangs in the prisons are going to allow one of these guys out of their cell or actually escape. This is a repeating story from the Republicans, be afraid of anyone who is different than you or believes differently.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:54 am |
  31. SilkPony

    I would like to encourage all American's to start an e-mail campaign to ensure that all detainee's at Gitmo be sent to Illinois. If Sen. Durbin has the strength of his convictions, then he shouldn't have a problem with his state taking all of those people. Correct?

    May 21, 2009 at 11:39 am |
  32. barbara

    Why should we care what other countries think about us? I mean really..why is it so important that we close gitmo just because the europeans think we should? didnt we clean up the mess at gitmo? yes we did and there is no more reason to shut it down. Of course obama knows this but he has to save face and continue to show the world that he is weak and cares more about foreigners than the american people.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  33. Moderate Republican

    I want to say I'm proud of Dick Durbin, for rejecting the doctrine of fear, and using rational thinking!! He is right, & the President is right......America the Beautiful, and the Great, the land of democracy, & almost seamless law, can house these terrorist criminals within our borders.

    May 21, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  34. chill

    Finally, a legislator with some guts. When did we get to be such cowards in this country? No one has ever escaped a supermax prison apparently. Lets get these thugs prosecuted where we can and dealt with within our laws. The 1993 bomber is still locked up in NY; what's the big deal?

    May 21, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  35. Chris ~ Albay, NY

    I completely agree 100% with the Senator. There's a nice little town in Montana that would be perfect of these terrorists.

    May 21, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  36. Greg

    One of the six...

    May 21, 2009 at 10:41 am |
  37. sonny chapman

    If there is one thing America is really good at, it's putting people in jail & keeping them in jail. Most people, non-drug use inmates, who find themselves in jail belong there because of their proven inability to function in society. We already have hundreds if not thousands of illegal aliens in our prison systems because no other country, including their own, want them back. The American Prison System can easily handle the Gitmo Crowd. It also boost their local economies.

    May 21, 2009 at 10:39 am |