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Durbin Questions Witnesses at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Closing the Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Brigadier General John D. Baker during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Closing Guantanamo: Ending 20 Years of Injustice,” about pursuing plea agreements for those charged at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and why that is the most viable option for bringing a prompt resolution to the cases before the military commissions. 

Durbin noted that those charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks have been mired in pretrial procedures for more than ten years, with no end—or justice for the 9/11 families—in sight. In contrast, in 2006, Zacarias Moussaoui was tried and convicted in federal court of participating in the 9/11 plot, and is securely serving a life sentence in a federal supermax prison in Colorado. Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was convicted of terrorism related charges just over a year after he was captured and brought into the United States.  He too is serving a life sentence in the federal supermax facility, along with many other convicted terrorists.

“As the testimony has made clear, that experiment [military commissions] failed.  And you said as much, General Baker, in your opening statement,” Durbin said.  “General Lehnert has suggested there will come a point where the best we can hope for, to finally put an end to this chapter, is some sort of plea negotiation in terms of the outcome of where these prisoners are held… from this point forward.”

Brigadier General Baker agreed that plea negotiations is “the only way out” and that the status quo is not working.

Durbin then went on to ask Brigadier General Baker and Major General Michael Lehnert to respond to one of the minority witnesses—Jamil Jaffer, Founder and Executive Director at the National Security Institute—as to whether any type of resolution for the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay is going to give aid and comfort to the enemy and put America at risk?

General Baker and Major General Lehnert disagreed with Mr. Jaffer’s statement.  General Baker noted that what puts America at risk is continuing the status quo at Guantanamo Bay.

Durbin also asked Katya Jestin, Co-Managing Partner at Jenner & Block and a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to describe the circumstances regarding the request for clemency written by seven of the eight jury members of her client’s sentencing hearing.  Her client is Majid Khan, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade who endured horrifying torture at CIA black sites.  Mr. Khan’s sentencing jury was made up entirely of senior military officers who served during and after the events of 9/11.

“[The request for clemency] was remarkable to us given their position in the military and given the fact that they had an opportunity to hear everything at the sentencing hearing, including the entire stipulation of fact to which Mr. Khan plead guilty to and took responsibility for.  So the clemency letter was delivered in the context of full information about the seriousness of his crimes, his contrition, his guilty plea, and then what happened to him in the CIA while he was in the black sites,” said Ms. Jestin.

Finally, Durbin thanked Colleen Kelly for her testimony and presence at today’s hearing.  Ms. Kelly is a Family Nurse Practitioner from the Bronx, New York; the mother of three children; and co-founder of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.  Ms. Kelly’s brother, Bill Kelly, was killed in the North Tower on September 11, 2001.

“Ms. Kelly, I’m going to remember for a long time, as you recounted, all of the survivors’ families who passed away waiting for a moment of resolution or some sort of explanation of what happened to their loved one.  It is stark testimony as to why we finally have to bring this to a close.  Thank you for your testimony today,” Durbin said.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin has been an advocate in the effort to close Guantanamo Bay for many years.  In 2013, Durbin chaired a hearing to examine the national security, fiscal, and human rights implications of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  In April, Durbin led 23 Senate Democrats in a letter to President Biden expressing their support for finally closing the detention facility.  And in July, Durbin urged Attorney General Garland to ensure that the Department of Justice’s approach to ongoing detention at Guantanamo Bay reflects the values of our nation.