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Republicans Blast Obama's Plan To Transfer Gitmo Detainees


When two prisons in Colorado were mentioned last fall as possible destinations for Guantanamo detainees, the reaction from Colorado's senators was negative and bipartisan. Both Democrat Michael Bennett and Republican Corey Gardner were against it. Gardner called the idea irresponsible, and Senator Gardner joins us now. Welcome to the program.

COREY GARDNER: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Are you still completely opposed to incarcerating some or all of, say, 60 Guantanamo prisoners in Colorado?

GARDNER: Well, I'm opposed to it, and so are the people of Colorado. The overwhelming majority of Coloradans don't want Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States or Colorado. And that's the same opinion of the people of this country.

SIEGEL: What do you say to the argument that Guantanamo has been a recruiting tool for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and we can only put that behind us by shutting it down?

GARDNER: I think the fact that you close Guantanamo Bay and move them to American soil will only create additional targets within the United States. I think you'll just transfer that anger to places like Colorado should they be moved there.

SIEGEL: Do you really believe, though, that the presence of al-Qaida-connected prisoners would pose some kind of danger to the people of Colorado?

GARDNER: I think there's a concern not only that I have but a concern that law enforcement has in Colorado, both the local and the federal, that not only are you creating a possible target to considerations that we didn't have to do before in Colorado and also, I think, questions about what would happen to the legal system, the court system and other influences that could be coming in those communities.

SIEGEL: But as you know, Florence, Colo., is home to the highest security prison in the federal system. It's often called the supermax. Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the 9/11 conspirators is there. Faisal Shahzad, who planted the car bomb in Time Square is there. Ramzi Yousef, who planted the first World Trade Center bombing is there. Have there been any plots against the facility or against the citizens of Colorado?

GARDNER: Well, I think what we're talking about, though, is Guantanamo Bay and terrorists who are housed there. There's no reason to use Colorado so simply fulfill a campaign promise the president made seven years ago. And if you look in his eight-plus-page document - it was only about eight pages, his plan that he released to the American people to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees. By the way, if you think this is, you know, appallingly short of details, the iPhone user agreement is much longer than eight pages, and yet here we are talking about moving terrorists into the United States with only an eight-page document according to the president's release today.

SIEGEL: Gregory Craig, the president's former White House council, has argued, and - well, here a quotation from an op-ed page piece he wrote last fall - that the determination on where to hold detainees is a tactical judgment at the very core of the president's role as commander-in-chief, equivalent to decisions on the disposition of troops and the use of equipment. That means that it would be within President Obama's power as chief executive to move these detainees somewhere else regardless of what the Congress does. Do you accept that?

GARDNER: Well, I don't accept that, and either does Loretta Lynch, the president's attorney general, Ashton Carter, the president's secretary of defense, and staff at the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the president lacks the legal authority to transfer these detainees. In fact, I've sent a letter months ago to the president months ago to the president asking what legal authority he can cite that allowed him to send a scouting team to Colorado to determine what facility would be appropriate for the transfer. We've not received a response even though this letter is months old.

SIEGEL: Senator Gardner, I just want to ask you how you anticipate this situation ending up. That is, there was a prison in Berlin that the occupying powers ran, Spandau, that, through the 1970s, had one prisoner left in it, and four armies looked after Rudolf Hess. Do you imagine that in 40 years, they'll still be, by that time, half a dozen people left sitting in Guantanamo and still detained there?

GARDNER: Well, again, I think that's a conversation the president can have with the people of Congress, but he's not done that. I mean, if the president was interested in speaking to Congress about this issue, he would be doing so. All we hear from the president, usually, is through a conversation on NPR or from CNN. So you know, again, this president said, when he was running for office and when he was running for president, that he would do this. Now the time is ticking, and he wants to get out of office by saying that he met his campaign promises despite the opposition - the overwhelming opposition of the American people. This isn't a Republican issue. This isn't a Democrat issue. This is something that both parties and people around the country have agreed to. They don't want Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States.

SIEGEL: Senator Corey Gardner, a Republican of Colorado, thanks for talking with us once again.

GARDNER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.