GOP lawmakers join call to close Gitmo

Even Vice President Dick Cheney is now hinting at the possibility -- though Rumsfeld's Pentagon continues to hype the prison's importance.

By Mark Follman
Published June 13, 2005 2:21PM (EDT)

It appears that the debate over Gitmo is starting to shift in favor of shutting it down, with several Republican lawmakers now suggesting that the U.S. military prison in Cuba used in the war against terrorism is hurting more than it is helping the cause. On Friday, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez was the first prominent Republican to urge the facility's closing, saying, "it's become an icon for bad stories, and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio. ... Is it serving the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it?"

Martinez was joined on Sunday by California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who acknowledged on "Fox News Sunday" that the administration was divided on the issue, with some officials taking the view that if the facility is shut down, "you shorten the [news] stories, you shorten the heated debate, and you get it off the table and you move on."

And on CNN's "Late Edition," Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Senate's Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, said that Guantanamo is one reason the United States is "losing the image war" around the world. "It's identifiable with, for right or wrong, a part of America that people in the world believe is a power, an empire that pushes people around, we do it our way, we don't live up to our commitments to multilateral institutions," he said.

Even the vice president appears to be softening his stance, relatively speaking, on the issue. In an interview to be broadcast Monday on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes," Cheney said there was "no plan" to close the base, but echoed President Bush's comments late last week that options were reviewed "on a continuous basis."

Still, Cheney made sure to add: "The important thing to understand is that the people that are in Guantanamo are bad people."

Despite the rising bipartisan chorus in favor of closing the prison, the Pentagon, too, continued to play up its value. In a statement released Sunday, the Pentagon said the interrogations at the facility have "undoubtedly produced information that has saved the lives of U.S. and coalition forces in the field as well as thwarted threats posed to innocent citizens in this country and abroad."

At face value, that's a statement that's hard to argue with -- but as one former U.S. Army officer with expertise in anti-terrorism and intelligence matters argued recently, there's also plenty of reason not to believe the hype.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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