Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation he would be able to convince Republican senators to vote in support of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay if President Barack Obama agrees to try alleged terrorist detainees in military tribunals instead of civilian courts.
The president has struggled to find congressional support for his campaign promise to close the detention facility in Cuba, especially after Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and other alleged terrorists — would be tried in civilian courts. That decision has been blasted by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The Washington Post reported Friday that President Obama’s advisers are “nearing a recommendation” that Mohammed return to a military tribunal for prosecution in order improve the administration’s political maneuverability on the Guantanamo Bay issue.
The White House had already decided against trying Mohammad in New York City near the site of the demolished World Trade Center towers. That reversal came after New York City business leaders and Mayor Michael Bloomberg complained in January about the cost and disruption of a trial in Manhattan.
During Sunday’s show, Graham said that he supported closing Guantanamo Bay but did not believe alleged terrorists were entitled to the same rights as U.S. citizens. Graham also said that he needed the support of military leaders and former Bush administration officials in order to convince Republicans to open a new facility on American soil to house the remaining Guantanamo detainees.
Below is excerpt of the transcript from Sunday’s show. Click here to see it in its entirety.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I’m getting a lot of grief because I do believe it’s best to close Gitmo safely.
So what I’ve told the President is that you’re now my commander-in-chief. Detainee policy in this
war is hard, it’s complicated, but we must get it right. We would be better off as a nation if we
could close Gitmo safely and start a new prison that he could use that the world would see as a
better way to doing business. And Khalid Sheik Mohammed, if he’s not an enemy combatant,
who would be? The President is getting unholy grief from the left. But, Bob, I think we’re at war.
I don’t believe Khalid Sheik Muhammad robbed a liquor store. He’s the mastermind in 9/11.
We’ve have used military commissions before. I’m a military lawyer. I have a lot of faith in the
military legal system. I’m willing to give robust due process. There’s a place for civilian court but
I will stand by my President to make rational detainee policy. We’ve got fifty people at Gitmo that
are too dangerous to be let go that will never go through a normal criminal trial. Let’s create a
new legal system, so they’ll have their day in court.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So where is this situation right now–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (overlapping): Well, we’re– we’re–
BOB SCHIEFFER: –because, basically, as I understand it, what you have said to the White
House is if– if you will agree to try these people in military tribunals–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (overlapping): Some of them.
BOB SCHIEFFER: –I– some of them. I– I will help you in getting the Republican votes that are
needed to close Guantanamo.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right. President Bush said we needed to close Guantanamo.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Senator McCain said it’d be better to close it. I believe that. We
need a legal system that gives due process to the detainee but also understands they didn’t rob
the liquor store. We’re at war and some of this information is very sensitive and classified. So
where we’re at now is, can this administration reverse course on Khalid Sheik Muhammad,
which I think would be an act of leadership well received by the public. He’s getting beat up
badly from the left but the ACLU theory of how to manage this war, I think, is way off base.
And those who want to waterboard on the right and believe that we should keep Gitmo open
forever and use any technique to get information, I think they’re equally off base. We’ve got to
win this war within our value system. But I understand that it’s a war.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Did you think, Senator Graham, that if the administration would agree to
what you want to do, put them before military tribunals–
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (overlapping): At least five.
BOB SCHIEFFER: –do you think– at least five of them.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Mm-Hm.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you think you can get the Republican votes to close Guantanamo and–
and open another facility in this country because that’s going to require considerable amount of-
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (overlapping): I can’t — I can’t do it by myself. But I think if we
could get Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the co-conspirators of 9/11 back in the military
commission, it’d go down well with the public. But I’m going to need General Petraeus, Admiral
Mullen, people known in public office. I’m going to need people from the Bush administration to
try to close Gitmo, to put aside partisanship, rally around this President, stand by his side and
say, let’s close Gitmo safely. With that kind of help, that will reassure Americans we’re making a
good, logical decision, we can do the things we need to do to getting in back–
A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Graham said he would be able to convince at least five Republican senators to vote to close Guantanamo. Graham was referring to the number of Guantanamo detainees he wanted the administration to put before military tribunals.