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Ahead of Debt Limit Vote, Durbin Continues to Call for Closure of Guantanamo Bay

Durbin: The time has come to deliver what little justice we can to the victims of 9/11 as well as their families

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  Durbin began his speech by highlighting the unnecessary cost Guantanamo Bay has forced American taxpayers to fund.  During his speech, Durbin called out Republicans for their message of “fiscal responsibility” ahead of the debt limit vote, but their unwillingness to close Guantanamo Bay, which costs the U.S. more than $540 million every year to keep the facility open, for only 30 detainees.  That is nearly $18 million per detainee per year.

Durbin said, “Let me suggest: If my colleagues want to cut wasteful spending in [the] federal government, I know one place to start [Guantanamo Bay]… In the 21 years since Guantanamo first opened, American taxpayers have wasted more than $7 billion on that facility… Now, for what great purpose are American taxpayers paying more than half a billion dollars every year to keep Guantanamo open?  Is it to keep America safe?  Or to detain convicted terrorists and threats to America?  Guess again.  Because right now, 16 of the 30 remaining detainees—more than half—have already been approved for release.  That means we are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars every year to detain men who should have already been released.”

There are ten other detainees who are still awaiting trials, and the trial against the five defendants involved in 9/11 has not even begun—over two decades later.  During his speech, Durbin spoke about Ted Olson, former President George W. Bush’s Solicitor General, who is calling for a plea deal from the Biden Administration.  Ted lost his wife Barbara on American Airlines Flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon.  In a Wall Street Journal column he wrote, “I now understand that the commissions were doomed from the start.”

Durbin continued, “To state the obvious: we are failing the victims of 9/11 and their families by continuing this charade.  These military commissions, which was supposed to be the court of law, have not and [are] unlikely to deliver justice.”

Durbin also highlighted the stories of two others who lost loved ones in the September 11th attacks.  One was Colleen Kelly, who testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in December 2021, which Durbin chaired.  Kelly lost her younger brother Bill when the first plane crashed into the North Tower.  Durbin also spoke about Leila Murphy, a young law student who lost her father, who like Ted, is calling for a plea deal.

“Leila, Colleen, and Ted Olson are not alone in calling on the Biden Administration to finally deliver a shred of justice to the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones through guilty pleas.  Just last week, Leila and several other children and grandchildren of victims who died on 9/11 wrote to President Biden.  In their letter, they implored him to salvage, ‘whatever justice can still be had for the parents and grandparents we lost.  [Do] not to let the process drag on any longer,’” said Durbin.

The signers of that letter included the three daughters of New York firefighter Douglas Miller.  He was among the more than 340 FDNY firefighters who were killed when the towers collapsed.  In their letter, Mr. Miller’s daughters expressed how hopeful they were last year when the 9/11 prosecution team began negotiations to obtain guilty pleas from the defendants.

Durbin continued, “But their hopes were crushed when the prosecution team recently indicated they are [now planning to return] to pretrial litigation..  This was devastating news for children like Mr. Miller’s daughters… Pretrial purgatory will not deliver justice to these families and the loved ones they lost.  The only way to do that is by securing guilty pleas in the 9/11 case.  And let’s be honest: This will not be the full measure of justice that these families deserve.  Sadly, that is no longer possible.  Because these families were robbed of true justice when the Administration at the time decided to torture and abuse detainees in our nation’s custody, and throw them into an untested legal black hole rather than trusting America’s time-tested system of justice.”

Durbin concluded his speech by calling on the Biden Administration to ensure that the interagency process to review the terms of the plea deals is completed without further delay. 

“If you want to stand for liberty and the rule of law, be honest with the American people.  Guantanamo Bay is a blight on our national conscience.  And it has been for a long period of time.  It is time for us to accept the reality—it is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, but it is an injustice that must end,” Durbin concluded.

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech 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 2021, Durbin led 23 Senate Democrats in a letter to President Joe Biden expressing their support for finally closing the detention facility.  In December 2021, Durbin chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Closing Guantanamo: Ending 20 Years of Injustice.”