Metro-East News

Durbin supports Pentagon plan to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced his support Tuesday for the Pentagon’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, even as Republican lawmakers join forces to block White House efforts to shut down the Cuban prison.

Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 leader, noted that for nearly a decade he and other senators have known Guantanamo is a liability for America because “it weakens our alliances, strengthens our enemies like ISIS and Al Qaeda, and casts doubt on our country’s commitment to human rights.”

Durbin also called the Cuban prison “a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, costing more than $4.9 million per inmate per year, compared with the roughly $86,000 it costs to hold our most dangerous criminals at supermax prisons, from which nobody has ever escaped.”

Durbin chided congressional Republicans for their efforts to block previous attempts to close Guantanamo.

“My Republican colleagues should drop their opposition to every proposal put forward by President Obama and listen to America’s military and national security leaders,” Durbin wrote. “In the meantime, the Administration has ample authority under current law to transfer the vast majority of remaining detainees and they must expedite efforts to do so. The time to close Guantanamo has long since passed.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, slammed the Pentagon plan and President Barack Obama’s support for it.

"The President has shown time and again — through his Iran nuclear deal, his support for the Syrian refugee program, and now his plans to close Guantanamo Bay — that he will put political talking points ahead of securing the homeland,” Bost said in a statement. “That's a dangerous precedent and one that I will continue to fight by every means possible. It is not only wrongheaded to transfer detainees to American soil, it is illegal, and it needs to stay that way.”

The Pentagon estimates that closing Guantanamo could save at least $335 million over 10 years and up to $1.7 billion over 20 years.

GOP leaders in the U.S. Congress have rejected all plans for moving Guantanamo inmates to the United States. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has put a hold on the president’s nominee for the secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, the first openly gay person to be nominated to head a military branch. Katherine Knight, a Roberts spokeswoman, said he is willing to use “any legislative tools at his disposal to prevent this transfer.”

Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have also slammed the Pentagon proposal.

“The proposal to move some of the detainees to the U.S. mainland for continued detention without charge is reckless and ill-advised,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “It won’t appease members of Congress who appear bent on making Guantanamo a permanent offshore prison for individuals captured in a global, apparently endless war. And it won’t end indefinite detention — it will shift it to the U.S. mainland.”

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000