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Even before President Barack Obama sent a plan to Congress to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Republican opponents were accusing Colorado's incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of pushing to "bring terrorists" to a Colorado prison.
No one's banged the drum louder against Bennet than Jon Keyser, who's among more than a dozen GOP candidates vying to claim Bennet's Senate seat in the November general election.
"We have about 90 terrorists that are left at Guantanamo Bay. Michael Bennet wants to close Guantanamo Bay with the president, and bring them right here to Colorado," Keyser said at a Feb. 11 GOP Senate candidates' forum at the University of Denver.
Keyser and his campaign have made similar statements at other campaign stops, in news releases and on social media.
We looked at Bennet’s record over the years on the Guantanamo Bay prison -- informally called "Gitmo" -- for evidence that he advocated bringing suspected terrorists to Colorado.
Bennet's closing conditions
Since 2009, Bennet has backed Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, saying: "I do support the closure because I think it is an important signal to the rest of the world about our devotion to the rule of law."
The United States has faced international criticism about the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo, and some Western countries have said the accused terrorists should be granted prisoner of war protections under the Geneva Conventions.
However, Bennet has placed conditions on his support for relocating Gitmo detainees from the start. He said they are being tried in military tribunals, so if they are moved to the United States, they should be held in a military prison. He also has pressed the administration to provide a plan on relocating detainees and consult with local and state officials before prisoners are moved.
"President Obama and his administration owe the American people a much more detailed plan of what they are going to do with the detainees," Bennet said in 2009.
Colorado doesn't have a military prison, and Bennet opposes housing detainees in the state’s civilian prisons, including the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence -- known as ADX or "supermax" -- the highest-security federal prison in the country.
In May 2009, Obama pledged to close the Guantanamo prison by January 2010. The move, without a plan of where the prisoners would be relocated, irked congressional lawmakers.
On May 20, 2009, Bennet voted with fellow senators to reject an effort to spend $80 million to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and to relocate the terrorism suspects, possibly to U.S. prisons.
But an amendment Bennet backed to prohibit funding to transfer Gitmo detainees to the United States was stripped out of the bill by a conference committee that irons out legislative language differences between Senate and House bills. Bennet did not serve on that committee.
A freshman senator, Bennet got into a dust-up during the 2009 debate with senior California Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- a fellow Democrat -- who said in a floor speech that Colorado’s supermax prison would be a perfect home for Gitmo detainees. "This facility houses not only drug kingpins, serial murderers and gang leaders, but also terrorists who have already been convicted of crimes in this country," she said.
Bennet disagreed in a statement, saying, "I strongly support the Senate's decision to withhold funding for the transfer of the detainees until the Administration comes up with a plan for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Because the detainees are being tried by military tribunals, they should be held in military facilities. Military detainees should not be transported to and held at Supermax because it is not a military facility."
In the same 2009 bill, Bennet voted for a Republican senator's nonbinding resolution calling on the defense secretary to consult with state and local government officials before making any decision about where Guantanamo detainees may be transferred if Gitmo was closed by a presidential executive order.
We asked the Keyser campaign for evidence supporting the candidate’s claim that Bennet wants to "bring [terrorists] right here to Colorado."
Keyser campaign spokesman Matt Connelly replied that "Bennet knew that Colorado was at the top of the list" of U.S. prisons where the Obama administration has considered transferring Gitmo detainees. He cited a 2009 address in which Obama suggested that Supermax could be a potential home for detainees.
"As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists," Obama said.
Yet, other prisons have also been reported as possible replacements for Gitmo, including military facilities like Fort Leavenworth, Kan., or the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.
Connelly said that Bennet has voted against two Republican amendments to ban the transfer of Gitmo detainees to the United States. He also voted against an amendment to block funds to prepare U.S. facilities to house detainees.
Connelly said such votes effectively laid the groundwork for Gitmo detainees to be transferred to the United States, including Colorado. "It’s laughable that after years of silence, Sen. Bennet is now arguing that he didn’t want to send Gitmo terrorists to Colorado, even though he voted three times to make it happen," he said.
Let’s examine the Keyser campaign’s defense of its candidate’s claims.
They point to Bennet’s 2013 vote against an amendment by Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire that would have prohibited the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo bay to facilities in the United States. Congressional records confirm Bennet’s vote that helped kill the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2014 fiscal year.
Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi said Bennet disagreed with the Ayotte amendment’s requirements about how the Defense Department certifies the security of a foreign government before a Guantanamo detainee could be transferred to that country. Bennet supported another proposal for safeguards on transferring detainees to foreign countries, Bozzi said.
Ultimately, Bennet voted with an 84-to-15 Senate majority for a compromise on Guantanamo, which retained a one-year ban on transferring detainees to the United States while easing the transfer of detainees to foreign countries. It was part of the defense-funding bill that was signed into law.
Keyser’s spokesman added that Bennet also voted against a 2012 amendment by Ayotte to block funding for transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
But Bennet’s spokesman counters that the senator voted against the amendment because it would have imposed a permanent ban on funding the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, which a legislative report confirmed. The amendment would have also blocked other Obama administration options, including prosecuting detainees in a federal court in the United States.
Given that Bennet supports closing Gitmo and potentially moving some detainees to a U.S. military prison, the senator opposed the permanent ban, his spokesman said.
The permanent domestic-transfer ban amendment and a similar House amendment were left out of the final version of the 2013 defense appropriations bill to avoid a threatened White House veto.
Records show Bennet instead voted for a one-year ban on transferring detainees to the United States that was included in the 2013 defense-funding bill.
Lastly, the Keyser campaign points to Bennet’s 2009 vote to kill a Republican amendment that would have barred the use of funds to construct or modify prisons in the United States or its territories to hold Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Bozzi, Bennet’s spokesman, again noted that Bennet, who supports closing Gitmo and moving at least some detainees to a U.S. military prison, of course opposed the amendment that would have blocked construction funding that could be used to prepare a military prison to securely hold the prisoners.
"I’ve repeatedly said I do not support the transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military facility to Colorado," Bennet said recently in response to President Obama sending his Guantanamo-closure plan to Congress. "I’ve voted to close the prison, but I believe military detainees should be held in military prisons. Colorado does not have that type of facility. This plan has done nothing to change my mind. These detainees should not be transferred to Colorado."
Keyser said, "We have about 90 terrorists that are left at Guantanamo Bay. Michael Bennet wants to close Guantanamo Bay with the president, and bring them right here to Colorado."
Keyser’s campaign pointed to Bennet’s votes against a permanent ban on transferring detainees to a U.S. military prison and his opposition to blocking construction funding for a prison to hold Gitmo prisoners in the United States.
While Bennet has long supported closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, his statements and legislative record show that, since 2009, Bennet has opposed attempts to relocate detainees from Guantanamo to a Colorado prison, including Colorado’s federal supermax prison. Bennet has said repeatedly he thinks detainees should be held in military prisons, and there is no military prison in Colorado.
We rate the statement False.
Clear Creek Courant, "Clear Creek students quiz U.S. senator," September 7, 2009
Bennet vote on Amendment to Block Guantanamo Prison Closing, Detainee Relocation, May 20, 2009
Weekly Standard, "Sen. Bennet to Feinstein: Keep Gitmo Detainees Out of Colorado Supermax Prison," May 20, 2009.
Denver Post, "Senate votes no on Gitmo," May 21, 2009
USA Today, "‘Supermax' prison draws attention in Gitmo debate," June 4, 2009
Yahoo News, "Obama identifies 13 possible sites to replace Guantanamo," February 23, 2016
Senate vote on amendment to ban detainee transfers to U.S., November 29, 2012
Amendment to permanently ban detainee transfers to U.S., "Conference Report on National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2013," December. 18, 2012
Senate vote, Fiscal 2014 Defense Authorization, December 19, 2013
CQ.com, "Key Senate Vote of 2012: Guantanamo Bay Detainees," January 21, 2013
Senate vote, "Fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization - Conference Report," December 21, 2012
Senate vote, "Detention Facility Construction Ban," November 17, 2009.
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