MADISON, Wis. – A majority of Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s plans to close the detention center for terrorists and other enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Liberal U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold is not in the majority.
Feingold, who wants his old Senate seat back, is facing off against U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican who took it from Feingold in 2010.
The candidates’ positions on Guantanamo Bay are as different as night and day.
Johnson has opposed the Gitmo closure because the federal government has failed to provide a “safe alternative” to house detainees that the senator has described as “evil” people who want only to return to the battlefield.
Johnson recently sponsored legislation requiring the Obama administration to provide Congress and the American people information about the Gitmo detainees, particularly just where they would be transferred.
While he recently told WisPolitics.com that he is reviewing Obama’s plan to shut down Gitmo, Feingold has a long record of supporting closing the military prison.
In 2007, Feingold called for the closure of the Guantanamo Detention Center because, “It is harming our ability to gain respect and cooperation of other nations, and I fear that it is giving the terrorists a potent recruiting tool.”
Feingold joined fellow liberal, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in calling for the closure of the facility because it has “become synonymous in the Arab and Muslim world with American abuses.”
In June 2009, Feingold said he fully supported Obama’s decision to shut down the detention facility. The president only recently announced his plan to close Gitmo, nearly seven years after delivering a major speech on the necessity of closing the prison.
“The president was absolutely correct when he said the following: ‘Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it,’” Feingold offered in a statement at the time.
The Democrat has fought Republican bills that would have prohibited the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States “until the president submits a plan to Congress and consults with governors of affected states.”
In November 2009, Feingold voted to table an amendment barring the use of funds to build or modify facilities in the U.S. to house Gitmo detainees.
And a month later, Feingold again voted against a bill that prohibited the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.
Feingold’s campaign did not return Wisconsin Watchdog’s request for comment.
But on June 15, 2005, the senator told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that the long-term detention of “enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay is among the most important national security and civil liberties issues facing us today.”
Gitmo critics argue the detainees held there, many for more than a decade, have been imprisoned by the U.S. government without charges and without hope of ending their captivity.
But many of the prisoners, now numbering less than 100, are known to be very bad people.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration released 10 Yemeni terrorists from the detention facility and transferred them to Oman. Among that group was Muhammad Salih Husayn al-Shaykh, a man who has pledged to kill as many Americans as possible.
And then there is Abu Bakr Ibn Muhammad al-Ahdal, an al Qaeda member described by the intelligence community as a “willing terrorist against the U.S,” according to the Washington Times.
“In fact, five of the 10 were deemed by the George W. Bush administration in 2008 as a ‘high risk’ to go back on the battlefield and kill Americans. The other five were designated ‘medium’ risks,” the publication reported.
The release of the detainees arrived as the Obama administration announced it was completing a plan to shut down the prison and transfer the remaining detainees to the United States.
Johnson, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, followed up by sponsoring legislation requiring the Obama administration to provide an unclassified notice to Congress containing specific information on Gitmo detainees transferred to a foreign country.
“The American people deserve to know when and where President Obama plans to transfer detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay,” Johnson said in a statement on the Terrorist Release Transparency Act. The information should be public, not hidden by unnecessary classification. “Many of the former Guantanamo detainees transferred to foreign countries have gone on to re-engage in terrorism, or are believed to have done so.
“The threat posed by the terrorists held at the Guantanamo facility must be addressed seriously and transparently,” he said.
On Thursday, a group of 15 Republican senators introduced a resolution demanding the United States keep captured ISIS operatives at the facility.
“At a time when the Obama administration lacks a coherent strategy to defeat (ISIS), it’s more important now than ever that we use all the tools at our disposal to fight terrorism,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a statement. “Instead of closing Guantanamo Bay, the administration should transfer detained ISIL fighters to the facility. This resolution paves the way to do just that, while preventing grants of new rights to terrorists.”
As WisPolitics.com reported last month, Feingold has “struck a cautiously supportive stance” on Obama’s plan to shutter the detention center. He did repeat that Gitmo has “contradicted our values and complicated America’s efforts to fight terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS.”
He’s cautious because a majority of Americans don’t agree with the Obama administration’s campaign to close the military prison.
A recent CNN/ORC poll found 56 percent of respondents oppose shutting the center, with 40 percent supporting it.
“Senator Feingold’s blind support for the closure of Guantanamo Bay is yet another example of his dangerously weak record on national security after 18 years in Washington,” Brian Reisinger, spokesman for Johnson’s campaign said in a statement. “Ron is fighting to make sure our country is doing all it can to keep terrorists and violent extremism off of U.S. soil – Senator Feingold doesn’t even seem to recognize the threat.”