North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis was in Cuba on Friday to visit the prison camp at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay – and afterward he said the facility should remain open.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly wanted to close the base, appealing to Congress once again in his most recent State of the Union speech, in January, to let him close the camp.
Tillis toured the base, observed “detention operations” and met with military commanders, according to his office.
“Guantanamo Bay houses some of the most heinous and evil criminals of our time – the worst of the worst – and my visit today reinforces my belief that we must keep this facility open,” Tillis said in a statement. “I will work to ensure this facility remains open and continues to play a key role in our nation’s effort to defeat the terrorist threat.”
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Tillis was one of five first-year Republican senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee on the trip. The others are Joni Ernst of Iowa, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Tillis’ office announced the trip and promised details later, after they return.
Dustin Walker, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it’s typical for committee members to visit Guantanamo at least once. The prison camp was set up to hold suspected terrorists the U.S. seized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
During the February Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Guantanamo, Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, told senators that the prisoner population has gone down from 242 men when Obama took office six years ago to 122. Among the current detainees, 10 are being prosecuted or have been sentenced, 54 are eligible for transfer, and 58 are being reviewed in a periodic review process, which determines whether their detention is “still permissible,” he said.
McKeon said the administration knew there was a risk to release them, “and we try to potentially mitigate the risk, and I think we’ve had some success in doing that.
“But we believe there’s a risk in keeping Guantanamo open,” he added. “The military leadership of the country has said that. You have the letter from three dozen former military leaders who think it is a propaganda tool that inspires recruitment of additional terrorists.”