Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Blog

By Matt Haugen
Summer 2013 Intern

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Wednesday, July 24th, concerning the national security, fiscal, and human rights implications of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. This was the first hearing held on this issue since 2009. Panelists ranging from high-ranking military officials and lawyers to human rights activists railed against Congress’s inability to close the facility despite widespread criticism. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) decried the high cost of detentions, pegging the cost at around $2.67 million per prisoner in Guantanamo against the $78,000 it costs to detain someone in a maximum security prison stateside. Others called attention to the legal quagmire that has engulfed detainees there— of the some 800 who have been detained there, only six convictions have been made. Most of the panel and many of the Senators agreed that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay inspires more terrorism than it prohibits.

There was a lone dissenting opinion on the panel though. One man spoke about the dangers of closing Guantanamo and advised the Judiciary Committee against it. His argument was twofold. First, he argued that the closure of Guantanamo and transfer of those detained there to super-max prisons in the US would expose US prisoners there to extremist ideologies—which they would act upon in a desire to spread “sharia law.” He expressed concerns  with maximum security prisoners becoming radicalized, reminiscent of the King hearings from 2011. However, testimony from the King hearings suggested that more exposure to Islam, not less, would decrease the misinterpretation of the religion's tenets. His second argument was that Americans would attempt to break these detainees out of a maximum security prison, ineptly attempting to draw parallels with the recent jailbreak in Iraq. Does he seriously believe our prisons are of the same caliber? One committee member claimed he was “stupefied” by these arguments—we’re assuming he said it on behalf of everyone there.

Who was invited to sit on this rare panel? He was none other than known Islamophobe, Frank Gaffney. AAI has written about Gaffney’s antics several times in the past and you may recall him as being the man who sparked Michele Bachmann’s witch-hunt against American Muslims and Arab Americans. Not only did Gaffney’s testimony at the hearing provide a plethora of misinformation, but he also took every chance available to interject and attempt to derail positive discourse. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) staunchly rebuked  Gaffney’s assault on American Muslims, asserting: “There are some very patriotic Muslim Americans who do not want to be characterized as part of an extremist movement,” to applause. Why was Gaffney speaking on this panel if he had neither the qualifications nor anything substantial or factual to add to the conversation? He was invited by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Sen. Cruz’s choice to include such hate-filled rhetoric in this hearing is deeply troubling. It is incomprehensible and deplorable that Sen. Cruz would choose such a publicly known Islamophobe to advance his own opinion. The problem isn’t that Sen. Cruz has chosen to voice his opposition to the closing of Guantanamo, it’s that by allowing Gaffney to testify he’s attempting to stop constructive efforts to find solutions. Gaffney has been branded for his association with well-known anti-Muslim hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This makes Sen. Cruz’s choice, particularly given his role as Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, all the more baffling.  It is both regrettable and frustrating that Sen. Cruz chose to include Gaffney as a witness. One certainly hopes he’ll choose more qualified witnesses in the future, or at least not lend credibility to people infamous for validating hate groups. That would be a good place to start.

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