WASHINGTON — The White House’s chief counterterrorism advisor expressed frustration Thursday that the administration remains unable to make good on its promise to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay or bring detainees held there to U.S. soil. And he blamed the nation’s polarized politics for the stalemate.
John Brennan told reporters at a breakfast that Congress continues to tie the administration’s hands in dealing with suspected terrorists detained in Cuba, even 10 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We’re not going to bring people to Guantanamo. It’s this administration’s policy to close Guantanamo and, despite some congressional hurdles that were put in our path, we’re going to continue to pursue that,” he said, adding that the White House has not excluded venues in the United States for holding military tribunals of suspected terrorists.
Brennan spoke a day after the Office of Management and Budget issued a strong objection to a bill that would require the director of national intelligence to provide intelligence committees on Capitol Hill with every scrap of information related to Guantanamo detainees as well as classified information on dealings with other countries concerning the transfer of detainees.
The White House threatened to veto any legislation with those provisions, saying it impinged on executive branch authority and would “have a significant adverse impact on the willingness of foreign partners” to take in detainees now in limbo in Guantanamo.
Brennan renewed his plea that detainees be allowed to be transferred from Guantanamo to facilities in the United States, a move Congress has blocked. Despite the congressional ban, he said no new detainees would be brought to Guantanamo, which the administration still intends to close.
Speaking days ahead of the 9/11 anniversary, the White House counterterrorism czar said the nation was “much better postured” to protect itself from attack than it was 10 years ago. He also said al Qaeda “has taken it on the chin” with the killing of Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders.
While he said he didn’t “subscribe to the theory” that another attack is not a matter of if but when, Brennan said he was concerned that terrorists might get their hands on sophisticated surface-to-air missiles in Libya, where the still-unsettled uprising has led to “an arms bazaar they can take advantage of.”
While Brennan worries about political vacuums in Libya, Somalia and Yemen allowing openings for al Qaeda, he indicted he is also concerned about political gridlock at home, which he said has made the job of those who protect the country against terrorists all the more difficult.
“In the political environment, the thing I am most disappointed with is when politics comes into the issue of national security,” he said, noting his is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and saying members of both parties “try to take advantage for political gain in the aftermath of failed attempts.”
Politicians “are the first ones to point fingers at the other party and I don’t think that is appropriate. That’s one of the things that dismays counterterrorism professionals throughout the government,” Brennan said. “This is an effort by Americans and for Americans against a threat and I think this is where our politicians really need to rally behind our efforts. … If people haven’t ridden in the saddle of the counterterrorism cavalry, people really don’t understand how difficult and challenging it is.”
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