Durbin Continues To Call For Closure Of Guantanamo Bay

During his speech, Durbin cites two families who are seeking justice after they lost loved ones on 9/11 and are calling for plea deals

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke about the importance of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin called on the Biden Administration to do more to accelerate the closure of the facility once and for all.

Durbin began his speech by highlighting Leila Murphy, a young law student who lost her father on September 11th, 2001, when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  

“She wrote [in a letter to Durbin], ‘My father, Brian Murphy, worked on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center and was killed when the first plane hit the North Tower... Twenty-two years and four presidential administrations later, there has been no accountability for his death, nor the deaths of nearly three thousand others.’  Leila—and 3,000 other families like hers—have been waiting for justice for 9/11 for more than two decades.  In those two decades, Leila has grown from a toddler to a law student.  But the military commission trial against the five 9/11 co-defendants in Guantanamo has not even started yet… Let me repeat that: more than two decades after the attacks, the 9/11 trial has not started,” Durbin said.

“By setting up an ad hoc military commission system rather than trusting our courts, by torturing detainees rather than securing evidence lawfully—we have made true justice for families like Leila’s virtually, legally impossible,” Durbin continued.  “If pretrial proceedings are still going on twenty years after the event, how many years do you think an actual trial would take?  How many years of appeals would then follow?  What are the chances that prosecutors can even convict men who were tortured on our hands for years?  And if they did, what are the chances that those convictions would be upheld?  How many family members will still be alive to see final judgments of guilt, if they ever, ever come?  The reality is that securing guilty pleas in the 9/11 case is at this point the only way to deliver a modicum of justice to the victims and their families.”

Durbin continued, “In Leila’s words, ‘The military commissions have failed to provide justice for 9/11 families.  Plea deals are a way out. The only thing standing in the way is political will, it’s time for that to change.’  Leila is not alone in recognizing that guilty pleas are realistically the only hope for justice.” 

During his speech, Durbin also spoke about Ted Olson, former President George W. Bush’s Administration Solicitor General, who like Leila, is calling for a plea deal.  Ted lost his wife Barbara on American Airlines Flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon.  In a Wall Street Journalcolumn he wrote, “I now understand that the commissions were doomed from the start… “We tried to pursue justice expeditiously in a new, untested legal system.  It didn’t work.  The established legal system of the U.S. would have been capable of rendering a verdict in these difficult cases, but we didn’t trust America’s tried-and-true courts… The American legal system must move on by closing the book on the military commissions and securing guilty pleas.”

Durbin noted in his speech that 18 of the 32 remaining detainees have never been charged with any crime and have been unanimously cleared for release by our national security and military leadership.  

Durbin continued, “The Administration must redouble its efforts to transfer the men who have been cleared for release or served their sentences.  The recent transfers of three longtime detainees were important steps forward.  But the Administration must pick up the pace.  Men who have served their time or been cleared for release should not still be sitting in Guantanamo.  Ending these abuses is both a moral and a national security imperative.”

Guantanamo Bay continues to be funded by American taxpayers.  The U.S. spends more than $540 million every year to keep facility open—for just 32 detainees, nearly $17 million per detainee.  

“We must not forget that Guantanamo was set up to be outside the reach of the law, outside the reach of the Constitution, outside the reach of habeas corpus, outside the reach of due process, outside the reach of the Geneva Conventions.  We must not forget that detainees were held incommunicado and actually tortured at Guantanamo.  We must not forget that more than half of the men still there continue to be detained indefinitely without any charge or any trial.  In America, we must stand for something better than that.  Guantanamo Bay is a historic stain on America’s long pursuit of the cause of justice.  We have a responsibility to release detainees who have never been charged with a crime or who have served their time, and we have a responsibility to deliver what little justice we still can to the victims of 9/11 and their families… Let’s finally salvage a small measure of justice – for Leila, for Ted Olson, and for everyone else who lost a loved one on that terrible day,” 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.”