Andrea Mitchell Tells GOP Senator: Gitmo ‘Hurting Our Standing in the World’

Talking to Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner during her MSNBC show on Tuesday, host Andrea Mitchell lectured the GOP lawmaker on opposing President Obama’s plan to shut down Guantanamo Bay and bring terrorist detainees to prisons inside the United States: “So we’re holding prisoners, paying for them, and arguably hurting our standing in the world because Guantanamo has become such a red flag everywhere in the world, when we could have them locked up in the U.S. and put away for life.”

In response, Gardner completely ripped apart her argument: “Well, actually, again, if you are a terrorist you belong in Guantanamo Bay. That’s where they should stay....And I think this idea that somehow if you transfer everyone out of Guantanamo Bay that terrorists are just going to surrender, that they’re not going to continue their fight against the United States or the west, is gravely mistaken.”

He slammed Obama’s vague proposal: “Look, if you have an iPhone, your user agreement for the iPhone is longer than the President’s plan to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, and I think that’s irresponsible.”

Mitchell began her question by citing a liberal guest she had on minutes earlier, a former Obama administration official who was once in charge of leading the crusade to close the detention facility:

One of the opposing arguments just now from Cliff Sloan, who used to be the special envoy from the State Department, is that at least 12 of these prisoners – their lawyers have said that they would plead guilty, but that they can't because under military commissions, the offenses that they would plead guilty to are not adjudicable, so they would have to plead guilty in a military court – rather, in a non-military court in the U.S.

By contrast to her exchange with Gardner, Mitchell lobbed softballs to Sloan, even teeing him up to provide a slanted fact-check of White House critics:

MITCHELL: Now, opponents have pointed to an alleged 30% recidivism rate where terrorists who are then sent home get back to the battlefield. And I believe you counter that with other data from the intelligence community.

CLIFFORD SLOAN: Yeah, that is a complete misconception and it is very important – obviously Guantanamo has been a difficult issue – it is important to focus on the facts. And the fact is, that of the detainees that have been transferred in this administration – who have gone through a very rigorous process with the intelligence community, the defense community, law enforcement, foreign policy, all of them having to unanimously approve the person for transfer – less than 5% of those who have been transferred have been confirmed of engaging in hostile activities after they’ve been transferred. Now, everybody wants that number to be zero, but it’s less than 5%. And over 90% are not even suspected of engaging in wrongdoing. So that is a complete misconception that is belied by the facts. And those are figures from the director of national intelligence, he’s required by Congress to put out a public report, it’s on their website every six months.

A July 2015 analysis by Heritage Foundation analyst Cully Stimson broke down the numbers and actually found a recent increase in the recidivism rate of Guantanamo detainees.

Without challenge, Sloan proclaimed:

And the one point I want to emphasize, Andrea, because this is another misconception that is out there, is sometimes you hear people saying that the only ones who are remaining in Guantanamo are the worst of the worst. And that is emphatically not the case. With many of them, they’re the ones who have the worst luck. They’re from Yemen. They can't go back to their home country and it is vitally important to have these other countries who will work with us and accept these detainees.

Mitchell wrapped up the friendly sit-down by declaring: “That’s why we asked you here, Cliff Sloan, the man with the answers. Thank you very, very much.”

Here is a full transcript of Mitchell’s February 23 interview with Senator Gardner:

12:34 PM ET

ANDREA MITCHELL: So where will Guantanamo detainees go if and when the prison would be closed? The President's plan would relocate anywhere from 30 to 60 prisoners to facilities in the U.S., possibly and most likely including the Supermax prison in Colorado. Senator Cory Gardner, Republican from Colorado, joins me now. Senator, thank you very much, good to see you. I should point out that your Democratic colleague, Senator Bennett, has already come out against this, as well. What is your opposition, if this were to become reality, to having prisoners come to Supermax, which everyone believes is the best prison in the U.S. for them?

SEN. CORY GARDNER [R-CO]: Well, let’s make a couple of points on that. Number one, the law is the law. The President signed a bill just a couple of months ago saying that no detainees can be transferred to the United States. So in order for the President to accomplish this –

MITCHELL: He had a signing statement in opposition to the Defense Authorization Act, or the appropriations bill.

GARDNER: Well, he signed the law and his own secretary of defense has said that the President lacks legal authority to transfer them to the United States. His own attorney general has said the President lacks the legal authority to transfer detainees to the United States. An official staffer with the – lieutenant general with the Joint Chiefs has said that the President lacks the legal authority to move detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States. So there is a long list of the President's own appointees who say the President lacks legal ability to do this.

Now, the President talked about Supermax and I think the Pentagon actually violated the law when they sent a scouting troop, a scouting team to Colorado to evaluate prison sites because the law not only says you can't spend money to transfer the detainees, but the law also says you can't spend money to assist in the transfer. And so, how do you send a scouting team to Colorado, Kansas or South Carolina without violating that portion of the law already?

But if you look at the language they’re using, they went and looked at Supermax, yes, but they also looked at a vacant Colorado state prison. That’s one of the idea’s that they’re considering right now, is a closed prison in a community that resoundingly is opposed to the transfer in a state that the overwhelming number of sheriffs – elected statewide sheriffs – oppose the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees, too. Look, Guantanamo Bay is tailor-made for terrorists, and that’s where they should stay.

MITCHELL: One of the opposing arguments just now from Cliff Sloan, who used to be the special envoy from the State Department, is that at least 12 of these prisoners – their lawyers have said that they would plead guilty, but that they can't because under military commissions, the offenses that they would plead guilty to are not adjudicable, so they would have to plead guilty in a military court – rather, in a non-military court in the U.S. So we’re holding prisoners, paying for them, and arguably hurting our standing in the world because Guantanamo has become such a red flag everywhere in the world, when we could have them locked up in the U.S. and put away for life.

GARDNER: Well, actually, again, if you are a terrorist you belong in Guantanamo Bay. That’s where they should stay. That’s where people in Colorado believe that they should remain. And I think this idea that somehow if you transfer everyone out of Guantanamo Bay that terrorists are just going to surrender, that they’re not going to continue their fight against the United States or the west, is gravely mistaken. The fact is, Guantanamo Bay isn't going to prevent the next terror attack from happening. They are still going to come after us because they don't believe in the values that we hold as westerners. And so, I think the President has put out an 8-page and some change white paper talking points on his plan to remove Guantanamo Bay detainees, to put them in the United States. Look, if you have an iPhone, your user agreement for the iPhone is longer than the President’s plan to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, and I think that’s irresponsible.

MITCHELL: And so, bottom line, what’s gonna happen to this plan?

GARDNER: I'm sorry, Andrea?

MITCHELL: I say, what is your bottom line? What is going to happen to this plan in the Senate?            

GARDNER: Well, again, I think the plan will – is exactly what it was deemed to be, it’s a talking point for the White House. They don't expect Congress to change the law. But I think the President’s trying to build his case based on a political promise to end run Congress, to go around Congress, to overturn the will of the people of the United States who sent Congress to do their job, to overturn a law that the President himself has signed. And so, I'm worried about what the President does next.

Look, if the President wanted to work with Congress, then he would start responding to letters that Congress has sent. I have sent letters to this administration asking for the legal authority that he is basing his opinions on to transfer detainees to the United States. I asked him for legal authority to send a scouting team to Colorado. How is that not in violation of the law? And yet, we haven't heard a thing from the White House in response to our letters. And so, if the President is willing to work with the Congress about this, then perhaps he should start by doing more than just communicating to us through CNN or MSNBC.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much. Cory Gardner, the senator from Colorado. Appreciate that.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC