The Cable

Hillary Clinton’s Preemptive Strike on the GOP Over Guantanamo

A list of retired military brass who back Clinton condemn Republican ‘rhetoric’ on torture.

On February 25, 2016 in Kingstree, South Carolina.
On February 25, 2016 in Kingstree, South Carolina.

Bracing for criticism over her support for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has enlisted 19 retired generals and admirals to launch a counterattack.

“…Not only is the closure of Guantanamo Bay consistent with U.S. values and weakens our enemies, but [it] also sends a strong signal to our allies that we have a credible detention policy,” the flag officers, most of whom left active duty years ago, wrote in a letter distributed Thursday by Clinton’s campaign. “This is the kind of leadership our country needs.”

They added: “We are dismayed at the rhetoric coming out of the Republican presidential field” over the plan to close Guantanamo.

On Tuesday — days before the Democratic primary in South Carolina — the White House released its long-awaited plan to close Guantanamo and bring remaining detainees to U.S. soil. The Pentagon has considered the Palmetto State as a potential destination for detainees.

Clinton called for Guantanamo’s shuttering as a senator and helped relocate detainees to other nations as President Barack Obama’s first secretary of state. But broad swaths of the American public, and lawmakers from both parties, oppose bringing detainees to the United States — a tricky balance Clinton must now strike as she runs for president.

Earlier this week, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump pledged to “keep Guantanamo open, we’re going to fill it with bad dudes.” Similarly, GOP contender Sen. Marco Rubio said newly-captured terror suspects are “going to Guantanamo, and we’re going to find out everything they know.”

Thursday’s letter is Clinton’s latest attempt to bolster her national security creds against Republicans who see Guantanamo as a winning political issue in the November elections. Yet some of the officers who signed it weren’t directly connected to Guantanamo; others have been associated with military scandals. The only woman who signed the letter — Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy — retired in 2000, before the Pentagon began moving terror suspects to the Navy-run detention center.

Still, several officers who signed served at the center of legal battles and political debates during some of the darkest moments for the U.S. military.

Shortly after his retirement in 2007, Army Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba wrote the preface to a report by Physicians on Human Rights on the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. Taguba led the Army’s initial investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. “There is no longer any doubt that the current [Bush] administration committed war crimes,” he wrote. “The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account.”

Also among the signers is retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, who testified as a psychiatric and medical expert in a number of cases on alleged terrorists and Guantanamo detainees.

“Expanding the use of torture abandons the principles that this country was founded on compromises our position of leadership on the world stage, and puts our troops, frontline civilians, and all Americans at risk,” the retired brass wrote.

Clinton’s campaign maintains she has consistently called to close Guantanamo. Less clear, however, is whether she now supports bringing detainees to the United States. As a senator in 2007, she both supported moving Guantanamo prisoners to military or civilian detention centers in the United States and also backed a congressional statement barring them from American soil.

Later, as secretary of state, Clinton strongly advocated for Obama’s push to close Guantanamo and urged him in a January 2013 confidential memo to be more aggressive to do so.

The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson / Staff

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