More Must Be Done to Close Guantanamo, Leahy Says

The senator says it has harmed the country’s national security.

Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questions witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws,' on Capitol Hill, September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws.
National Journal
Dec. 5, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

Sen. Patrick Leahy on Thursday clas­si­fied Guantanamo Bay and the way the U.S. mil­it­ary uses drones as “de­fin­ing chal­lenges” for the coun­try in re­gard to hu­man rights.

The Ver­mont Demo­crat gave the key­note ad­dress for the 2013 Hu­man Rights Sum­mit, an event hos­ted by Hu­man Rights First, a non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“For more than a dec­ade, the in­def­in­ite de­ten­tion of pris­on­ers at Guantanamo has con­tra­dicted our most ba­sic prin­ciples of justice, de­graded our in­ter­na­tion­al stand­ing as a cham­pi­on of hu­man rights, and rather than help­ing our na­tion­al se­cur­ity it has ac­tu­ally harmed it,” Leahy said.

He ad­ded that U.S. of­fi­cials “con­demn” oth­er gov­ern­ments when they take sim­il­ar ac­tions, and they “should not tol­er­ate” such prac­tices with­in the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

Amend­ments to the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act that would have made clos­ing the de­ten­tion cen­ter more dif­fi­cult failed to gain pas­sage in the Sen­ate. But sim­il­ar pro­vi­sions were in­cluded in the ver­sion of the le­gis­la­tion that House mem­bers passed.

The sen­at­or spoke out against the gov­ern­ment’s back­ing of tor­ture after the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks. He called tor­ture “counter to our core mor­als and val­ues” and said it should not “be cloaked in eu­phem­isms like ‘en­hanced in­ter­rog­a­tion tech­niques,’ or jus­ti­fied by twis­ted and flawed leg­al ana­lyses.”

Leahy also tar­geted the gov­ern­ment’s use of drones, not­ing that while he thinks the mil­it­ary should be able to use the devices in armed con­flicts it must be “in ac­cord­ance with in­ter­na­tion­al hu­man­it­ari­an law.”

“I re­main very con­cerned about the lack of trans­par­ency sur­round­ing these op­er­a­tions, and the al­leged use of ‘sig­na­ture strikes,’ ” he said.

Leahy sug­ges­ted that the in­ter­na­tion­al law that gov­erns drones should be reex­amined and pos­sibly tightened. It isn’t the first time the sen­at­or has voiced his con­cerns about the U.S. drone pro­gram. He pressed earli­er this year for great­er trans­par­ency for mem­bers of Con­gress and the pub­lic.

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