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April 8th, 2011

Iowa’s Liberal Congressmen Decry GITMO Trials

By Nathan Tucker

Iowa Senator Harkin (D) decried the President’s decision to detain and try terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, likening it to the abuse of prisoners of war at Con Son Island.  Democratic Congressmen Braley and Loebsack chimed in, urging the President to close the detention facility because it defeats “our effort to ensure that the principles of freedom, justice and human rights are spread throughout the world.”  Or at least they did when the President’s last name was Bush.

In contrast, their sense of moral outrage appears to have lapsed now that a Democrat occupies the White House.  Though asked by The Iowa Republican for comment, they have refused to utter even the slightest protest after the Obama administration recently announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other detainees at Guantanamo Bay would be tried in military tribunals.

They displayed no such hesitation, however, in casting aspersions on the legitimacy and constitutionality of a similar decision made by President Bush.  For instance, in June of 2007, Congressmen Braley and Loebsack, joined by 143 of their House colleagues, wrote President Bush that “…the detainment facility has undermined America’s image as the model of justice and protector of human rights around the world.

“Holding prisoners for an indefinite period of time, without charging them with a crime goes against our values, ideals and principles as a nation governed by the rule of law…Further, Guantanamo Bay has a become a liability in the broader global war on terror, as allegations of torture, the indefinite detention of innocent men, and international objections to the treatment of enemy combatants has hurt our credibility as the beacon for freedom and justice…..”

They concluded that “the global war on terror cannot be won through military might alone.  It is a war of ideas and philosophies.  A liability of our own creation, the existence of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay is defeating our effort to ensure that the principles of freedom, justice and human rights are spread throughout the world.”

In 2009, Congressman Braley was supportive of the Obama Administration’s plans to move the terrorist detainees to Thompson, Illinois, arguing “that we are capable of providing justice even to people who have engaged in terrorist attacks against us, prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law, and incarcerating them the way we do right now all over this country in federal facilities…”

Congressman Boswell (D) joined Braley and Loebsack in voting for the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which required that the Secretary of Defense submit a a plan for the transfer of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.  Senator Harkin went even further, proposing an amendment to the bill that would have required the president to close the detention facility within one year.

“The situation at Guantanamo is personal for me,” said Senator Harkin. “As a young staffer on the Hill, I helped to expose the tiger cages at Con Son Island, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prisoners, as well as civilian opponents of the war, were being held incommunicado, tortured and killed with the full knowledge and sanction of the U.S. government. I believe there are disturbing parallels between what transpired on Con Son Island nearly four decades ago and what has happened at Guantanamo in recent years.”

All four members of Congress could, like the Obama Administration, claim that they are still in favor of closing Gitmo but that the 2011 Defense Authorization Act denies any funds for the transfer.  But that act passed a Democratic-controlled Congress and was signed into law by a Democratic President.  Though the final bill was a voice vote which left no record of how they voted, the three Congressmen had voted in favor of the defunding language just a few months earlier.

Merits aside, it is disturbing that the vigor of their moral convictions so easily vacillates from one administration to the next, depending on party affiliation.

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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