Congressman: Bush administration takes its cues from Lenin
A top Congressional Democrat who is working to close the detention facility set up for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay told RAW STORY that he feels like he is fighting against 'Leninist' propaganda from the White House.
"This administration, I've never seen an organization that learned the lessons of Lenin as clearly as these guys," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) in a Thursday interview. "These guys must tack up Lenin's philosophy on their bedstand every night. Particularly when Lenin suggested if you say something often enough, with enough conviction, everybody will believe it."
Moran was referring to the tactics being used by the Bush administration to fight moves in Congress to close Guantanamo Bay. The Congressman, who has served his Virginia district since 1991, sits on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which decides the Pentagon's annual budgets. Moran has been tasked by the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), with devising a plan to shutter Guantanamo Bay.
The congressman spoke to RAW STORY in the Rayburn Room off the floor of the House of Representatives. He had just successfully advanced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill that would require Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to report on how every detainee at Guantanamo Bay could be transferred away from the controversial base. Passing on a close 220-208 vote, the amendment could be an early indicator of the difficulties that may be faced in the broader effort to close the base for good.
"I think it's going to be difficult," Moran acknowledged of his efforts. "What the Republicans' tack is going to be is that these are all terrorists, and do you want them all to be released to your backyard?"
Still, Moran belittled politicians who are trying to use Guantanamo for political purposes. He took aim at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who said in a Republican debate last Thursday that he favored doubling the size of the prison.
"Who's he going to double it with?" he asked. "We've got about 30,000 prisoners in our American prisons in Iraq, and another 30,000 in Iraqi prisons. Does he want to take those 60,000 and dump them in Guantanamo, too? Is that what would make him happy?"
The Congressman also slammed President George W. Bush and other administration leaders for saying they wanted to but could not close Guantanamo Bay.
"The President and the Secretary of State, after having acknowledged that it's wrong, that it should be shut down, have shown that they don't have the courage or the wherewithal to do the right thing," he argued. "I think that makes it worse. It's like labeling Darfur a genocide and then not doing anything about it."
Finally, the Congressman emphasized that US civilian courts were capable of trying accused terrorists who were called 'the worst of the worst.' As an example of how civilian trials could help the US in the war on terrorism, he pointed to the prosecution of so-called '20th 9/11 hijacker' Zacarias Moussaoui in Alexandria, Virginia, part of his district.
"When some of the families of the victims of 9/11 said he was not directly involved in the deaths of our loved ones, and so we don't think he should actually be given the death penalty, Moussaoui fell silent. And I'm told by his defense lawyer that he sits in his cell with his head between his legs because he doesn't know what to believe now," the congressman explained. "Going through that trial proved that the US does have principles, values, ideals, that there is a rule of law that applies. It's everything he was told was not the case. We have disproved that propaganda by putting him through a trial."
A transcript of the interview with Rep. Moran is presented below.
Note: RAW STORY regrets that two very brief portions of its recording of the interview with Moran were inaudible due to sudden changes in background noise in the room where the interview took place.
RAW STORY: The Pentagon is now trying to say that unlike the Seton Hall study that says a lot of these people aren't that bad aren't true, that these people really are the worst of the worst. Do you buy it?
Rep. Jim Moran: Of course not. It seems to me that after four and a half years, this administration should have lost its credibility to anybody that's been paying attention to what they say. But the 772 people that have been sent to Guantanamo, only four have been charged with crimes. Now they've released half of them. If they thought these were the worst of the worst, the killers, the shooters, would they really have released them? 86% of them were picked up by Pakistani or Afghan Northern Alliance forces, and returned for bounties. So, according to our data, only about 5% were actually picked up by US forces, and the majority are not even alleged to have been involved in any hostile acts against the United States. This is a black legal hole, there are people in the administration that are embarrassed about it, and that's why they're trying to divide our attention. One of the things they've done to divert our attention is send 15 guys, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed down there, but they don't characterize the people we've been confining in Guantanamo Bay, these are people that were in secret prisons, and they just got there. We're talking about the 772 that were sent there under very dubious circumstances. This is something that all of America should be embarrassed at, and the rest of the world is disgusted.
RAW STORY: The President and the new Secretary of Defense have said that they really want to close Guantanamo. Do you think this is sincere, or just a political stunt?
Rep. Moran: Well, they're saying 'I want to do the right thing, but, you know, I just really can't, sorry.' They've at least acknowledged what the right thing to do is. And, Secretary Gates just came on board, so I don't blame him. But the President and the Secretary of State, after having acknowledged that it's wrong, that it should be shut down, have shown that they don't have the courage or the wherewithal to do the right thing. I think that makes it worse. It's like labeling Darfur a genocide and then not doing anything about it.
RAW STORY: Tuesday night, Romney said that he wants to double the size of Guantanamo. What's your reaction to that idea.
Rep. Moran: I don't know where this guy came from. I used to watch him when he was Governor of Massachusetts, and what he said and did in order to get elected. And now I guess he's going to say and do what he needs to do to get chosen by the right wing nuts of the Republican Party. So I guess he figures, 'If I'm as extreme or right wing nut as the people I'm talking to, then it's to my benefit.' This guy, I'd really rather deal with somebody like a Ron Paul who sticks to his convictions than somebody who is going to say to whatever he thinks the audience wants to hear. I can't believe that Romney is so out of it that he really believes what he's been saying lately.
Who's he going to double it with? Mostly they're people from the Afghan war. We've got about 30,000 prisoners in our American prisons in Iraq, and another 30,000 in Iraqi prisons. Does he want to take those 60,000 and dump them in Guantanamo, too? Is that what would make him happy? I ought to mention, most of those tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraq, they're actually shooting up American troops. Only 5% of the people at Guantanamo have been actually shooting at American troops. If we were looking for our own security, I think we'd have to look at some of these people who are suggesting we do things that are so un-American as to be a real threat to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
RAW STORY: But Romney is sort of speaking to a particular audience who want to hear that message. Do you think the Democrats can afford to close Guantanamo?
Rep. Moran: Yeah, these people watch Fox News, and read the Washington Times and the Weekly Standard and the National Review. And, everybody's got a right to insulate themselves in right wing dogma, that's part of the beauty of the United States. And that's the group that he's apparently trying to appeal to. I find it very unappealing.
RAW STORY: Do you think that fear that they're trying to spread is going to make it difficult for a lot of your colleagues in the Democratic caucus to get behind this push that you and Congressman Murtha are making?
Rep. Moran: Some of them. Some of them are concerned because some of them are in districts that are conservative and don't have very good newspapers, and apparently don't expose themselves to a lot of balanced information. So I don't blame them. People have some responsibility to represent their constituency. So I think it's going to be difficult. What the Republicans tack is going to be is that these are all terrorists, and do you want them all to be released to your backyard? And the last thing they want is for people to realize that only 1% of them were captured by American forces. The majority are not even alleged to be involved in any violent act, and only four of them have actually been charged with a crime. We're going to have to deal with propaganda. This administration, I've never seen an organization that learned the lessons of Lenin as clearly as these guys. These guys must tack up Lenin's philosophy on their bedstand every night. Particularly when Lenin suggested if you say something often enough, with enough conviction, everybody will believe it. So far, well, it worked for the first four or five years, it was really the Rove strategy. But I think people are people are beginning to question it. And that's the benefit of a free press.
RAW STORY: Your neighbor Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has proposed a bill that would basically make it so you can't put detainees in from the war on terrorism in certain places, sort of the 'not in my backyard' approach to dealing with Guantanamo...
Rep. Moran: The only place is basically is the black hole in Guantanamo where there's no legal rights that apply. Well, there have been governments that I think Eric would have been much more comfortable with. But we live under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You know, when I listen to Eric talk, it's clear that he would have voted against that Bill of Rights if he had that opportunity. It's a good thing he wasn't serving the Congress 200 years ago, or we wouldn't have as free a nation as we have today.
RAW STORY: Are you concerned with the two additional detainees that have been added to Guantanamo in the past year?
Rep. Moran: They're there for strategic purposes, so they can make the American people think that they're typical of the people who are at Guantanamo. They're not typical, the last fifteen are not typical of the people that have been languishing at Guantanamo, so that's a whole different situation.
RAW STORY: But do you think we should be bringing more people into Guantanamo even if they're the worst of the worst who were picked up on the battlefield?
Rep. Moran: Well, if they're the worst of the worst, it seems to me that you can prosecute them, and punish them. You can't prosecute more than one at a time. If you were just going to go after people that you can drum up any kind of actual charge against, it would still take a lifetime to prosecute, because there's only one court at Guantanamo.
The only prosecution you might get at Guantanamo is not going to be accepted by the rest of the world because it has all the appearances of a monkey trial. So if you've got the worst of the worst, it seems like you should try them, so you can punish them.
You know, in Alexandria, Virginia, where I was mayor and I represent, we had the guy that was alleged to be the 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui was his name. And he spouted all this kind of propaganda against the United States. For months, he went on and on and he said the worst stuff about the U.S. [Inaudible] Finally, he went through the trial and he'd sit there, and over time, though, as people came through and he saw the way the system of justice works, he started to quiet down. And when some of the families of the victims of 9/11 said he was not directly involved in the deaths of our loved ones, and so we don't think he should actually be given the death penalty, Moussaoui fell silent. And I'm told by his defense lawyer that he sits in his cell with his head between his legs because he doesn't know what to believe now. Going through that trial proved that the US does have principles, values, ideals, that there is a rule of law that applies. It's everything he was told was not the case. We have disproved that propaganda by putting him through a trial. It seems to me it might make some sense to take the worst of the worst, put them in a prison cell, let them sit in a court room, bring them down to the level of a common criminal, which they are, and try them. That's a lot better than putting them in a situation where they're going to be perceived as some kind of martyrs.
RAW STORY: So you think an arrangement kind of like we're seeing now with people who are tried in the civilian courts can be applied to people at Guantanamo?
Rep. Moran: Oh, of course. If you have no information with which to charge them, than how do we know they are who we say they are. I think we have sufficient information that these guys should be tried. And until you try them, you really can't punish them. I mean, you can torture them indefinitely, but then the more you torture them, the less credible is the information they reveal. We found that out when we went on any number of wild goose chases by people like Ibn Al-Libbi and so on who just told us things they knew we wanted to hear, and we acted on them when they weren't true. And then later, he recanted it, saying that' I said there was a terrorist training camp in Iraq just because I knew that's what you wanted to hear, and the Egyptians went and tortured me until I told them what the Americans wanted to hear.' And we acted on information that we should have known was false. And in this case, I think the people that we feel are real bad and have in fact been directly involved in shooting at, let alone killing Americans, then they should be prosecuted, and as far as I'm concerned, they should be executed. But we should do it under the rule of law so it's a credible process and so we don't continue to undermine our reputation and credibility throughout the world.
You can't win the war on global terrorism through a military victory. This is a battle of ideas, and as long as Guantanamo stays open, the idea that we are going to operate outside the law, the idea that we're going to ignore the Bill of Rights gives credence to the propagandists who argue that we are not the nation that we used to be, that we are a nation that people have a right to attack and to plot against. It's just not true. The problem is some people in the administration are playing into the hands of the propagandists, not deliberately, but because they don't think about the reputation of what America is and what it stands for and how that's going to play out against extremists.