December 18, 2013

Guantanamo deal would let up to half of detainees go home

It’s the first time Congress has moved to ease restrictions since Obama came to office promising to close the prison holding terror suspects.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Up to half the terror suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay could be closer to heading home under a bipartisan deal reached in Congress that gives President Barack Obama a rare victory in his fight to close the prison.

click image to enlarge

In this photo reviewed by the U.S. military, a soldier closes the gate at the now abandoned Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, which was used as the first detention facility for al-Qaida and Taliban militants who were captured after the Sept. 11 attacks.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The deal would lift the most rigid restrictions Congress previously imposed on detainee transfers overseas and is part of a broad compromise defense bill awaiting final passage in the Senate this week. The House approved the measure last Thursday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the compromise could have a dramatic impact on the 160 detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"About half of the detainees would be detainees that could be transferred to their third-world countries from which they come," Levin told reporters. "About half of the detainees would remain in Guantanamo because of the prohibition on transferring them to the United States for detention and for trial."

The defense bill marks the first time since Obama came to office promising to close Guantanamo that Congress is moving to ease restrictions instead of strengthen them. And it could signal changing political views toward the prison for terrorism suspects now that the war in Afghanistan is winding down.

Obama's achievement was somewhat of a surprise, after the Republican-controlled House earlier this year voted overwhelmingly to make it harder to transfer detainees. But the deal to move in the opposite direction passed with hardly any opposition and little attention — perhaps overshadowed by more prominent defense bill debates over Iran sanctions, military sexual assaults and spying by the National Security Agency.

But even with the deal, Obama still faces big obstacles to closing Guantanamo. Congress has effectively blocked him from doing so for his first five years in office, and he faces declining clout in his final three. Yet the president seems determined as part of his legacy to push for closure of the prison he argues never should have been opened and "has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law."

Congressional proponents of keeping Guantanamo open say they felt they had to allow for transfers to other countries to maintain a more important priority — a ban on detainees from coming into the United States. The administration also pushed for the ability to transfer detainees to the U.S. for imprisonment, trial or medical emergencies but lost on that front, leaving Obama a thorny predicament of what to do with captives considered too dangerous to release.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who worked on the compromise as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he'll continue to fight to keep Guantanamo open even as some colleagues are softening their position. "There's no place else you can house these terrorists," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday, adding some former detainees have re-engaged in terrorist activity.

"I look at this and I wonder why people don't want it," Inhofe said. "But the president doesn't and he's going to keep trying (to close it). And this bill stops him from doing it."

Obama renewed his commitment to closure this spring when detainees went on a hunger strike to protest indefinite confinement without charge, now going on for 12 years. Obama responded by vowing to make the case anew to Congress that the prison hurts the United States and appointing envoys at the State and Defense Departments to work toward closure.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)