In a letter to President Barack Obama, a group of retired U.S. generals say they are “deeply concerned by the hysteria permeating the public debate” around closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay and filing cases against terrorism suspects in civilian court. They say opponents are using the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day as a reason to advocate for torturing suspects to gain intelligence.
“Opponents of your plan to close Guantánamo are using the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as an excuse to renew their calls to keep the Guantánamo prison facility open and to oppose bringing terrorist suspects to justice in federal courts,” reads a letter from 33 retired flag and general officers.
“We know from experience that torture does not produce reliable intelligence, and acting on information derived through such abuse is dangerous, to our troops, and to our nation.”
In a separate letter, retired U.S. Marine Corps. Generals Joseph P. Hoar and Charles C. Krulak, co-chairmen of the group of 33, wrote Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to request a meeting to discuss issues regarding the treatment and detention of enemy prisoners.
Four of the retired generals who signed the letter to Obama, Gen. David M. Maddox, Lieut. Gen. Harry E. Soyster, Major Gen. William L. Nash, and Brigadier Gen. James P. Cullen, appeared at the National Press Club where they criticized those who wanted to keep detainees as enemy combatants.
“The president and his national security team are undeterred by those who wish to spread the message of fear and retreat,” said Maddox, who said that misinformation has dominated the public debate over the issues.
“Some have suggested that suspects like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of attempting to bomb Flight 253, do not deserve the protection provided in our federal courts and should instead be subject to military tribunals. On the contrary, we believe that Abdulmatallab and his ilk should be treated as the would-be mass murderers they are. To bestow on him and others like him the designation of “enemy combatant” reinforces their claims to be jihadist warriors,” write the generals.
Republican critics, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Attorney General John Ashcroft have criticized the plan to close Guantánamo, arguing that it compromises national security.
Soyster had the opposite view. He said the hysteria was “unwarranted and dangerous.” He said that experienced intelligence officials have for years used “tried and true techniques” that have allowed the U.S. to collect relevant information and prevent future attacks.
Cullen, who lost friends in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said it would be wrong to compromise the U.S. judicial system. He also said the civilian judicial system has been much more successful at convicting terrorists, with a 90 percent conviction rate, whereas military tribunals have seen only one out of three terrorism suspects convicted.