Waxman Tells Committee Guantanamo Should Close

            Tells Congessional Committee That Move Would Help Combat Terrorism
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July 16, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Columbia Law School Professor Matthew Waxman told an independent Congressional committee yesterday that, while closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay would be hard, “Guantanamo should be closed because doing so – if handled right – will improve, not detract from, our ability to combat terrorism.”
Waxman also cautioned that Guantanamo is a “symptom of a much larger problem, and we should not consider it in isolation from other U.S. Government detention operations.”
Waxman, an associate professor of law at Columbia Law School, gave his testimony before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the United States Helsinki Commission, which is an independent government agency created by Congress to monitor and encourage compliance with human rights and other agreements based on the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.
To read Waxman’s full testimony, click here.
Waxman noted that on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States confronted a grave threat and had to take urgent action but “neither traditional criminal law nor the law of war provided clear solutions.” Seven years later, he continued, in light of much new experience, “we need to reconsider the basic legal and policy decisions taken immediately after 9/11.”
Guantanamo is part of a larger issue, because “for the foreseeable future the United States and its allies will continue to capture suspected terrorists… and will need a durable framework for handling them,” Waxman said. “This framework must permit the long-term detention of the most dangerous individuals while facilitating intelligence collection … but with rules and procedures that are politically, legally, ethically and diplomatically sustainable.”
Despite the many challenges to doing so, Waxman said, Guantanamo should be closed because the controversy it generates has impeded cooperation among U.S. allies. In addition, “negative impressions abroad about Guantanamo also undermine our ability to promote principles of justice, rule-of-law and good governance, which are tied to our success in combating violent extremism.”
He said the most promising alternative to Guantanamo “will require a combination of prosecuting some (detainees) in civilian or military courts, transferring or releasing others to home countries … and perhaps detaining or even releasing some of them inside the United States.”  
Waxman concluded his testimony by stressing that “[a]ll of the alternatives to Guantanamo carry risks, including the possibility that some dangerous individuals may be released.” “But,” he continued, “this risk should not determine unilaterally our policy. Detention policy is not about eliminating risk, but about balancing and managing competing risks, including risks to our values and legal system.”
Waxman, who joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 2007, had for the prior seven years served in several national security policy positions within the executive branch. From 2004 to 2005 he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, a position created after the Abu Ghraib prison crisis in Iraq to advise on and help manage the improvement of U.S. military detention policy and operations, including those related to the fight against al Qaeda.
He wrote an op-ed published last October in the Washington Post about how to shut Guantanamo down properly. To read the piece, click here.
Journalists interesting in speaking with Professor Waxman can schedule interviews through the Columbia Law School Public Affairs office at 212-854-2650. TV and radio interviews can also be arranged. The Law School has an on-campus studio equipped with IFB and ISDN lines.
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