Senate Democrats to Block Gitmo Closing
Senate Democrats said Tuesday that they planned to block President Barack Obama from closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until he comes up with a detailed plan for handling its 241 detainees.
The issue of closing the prison for terrorist suspects has proved to be an embarrassment and a distraction for the Democrats since Mr. Obama several weeks ago requested $80 million to wind down its operations by year's end.
House Democrats last week refused to attach the money to a $96.7 billion war-spending bill and now Senate Democrats plan to follow suit, complicating one of Mr. Obama's highest-profile campaign promises.
Republicans have seized on the issue, conjuring images of terrorists being released onto America's streets. In an indication of Democrats' disarray, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Tuesday that he opposed transferring Guantanamo inmates to the U.S. "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States," Sen. Reid said.
Mr. Reid's office later backtracked a bit, saying that, like other Democrats, he would withhold judgment on the transfer issue until the White House comes up with a plan. The administration says it would never release dangerous inmates into the population, though some could be transferred to high-security U.S. prisons.
Senate Democrats had planned to approve the money to close Guantanamo, with the stipulation that it could not be spent until 30 days after the administration came up with a detailed proposal. But as Republicans hammered away at the idea that the site's closure posed safety risks for Americans, Senate Democrats concluded it was better to withhold the money for now. The full Senate is expected to approve that move this week.
"The feeling was that at this point we were defending the unknown," said Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat. "We were being asked to defend a plan that hadn't been announced. And the administration said, 'Understood. Give us time to put together the plan, and we will come to you.'"
A White House task force is scheduled to produce a plan in July on exactly how to close Guantanamo and what to do with the detainees. Some could be tried by military commissions, others could be handled by civilian U.S. courts, and still others could be transferred to foreign countries.
Republicans did not let up Tuesday in their criticism of shuttering the facility. "The detainee complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold enemy combatants that pose the highest level of threat to the U.S.," said Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma.
Some lawmakers who support closing Guantanamo also have said they do not want detainees released in their home states. Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.), for example, was asked on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" if he supported releasing a group of Chinese detainees at Guantanamo into his state. "The answer is no," he replied.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) also supports shutting the prison and has said some in his party have "demagogued" the issue. But he also has said he does not want the detainees moved to the military brig in South Carolina because it's in a populated area.
Closing Guantanamo is the latest in a series of national-security issues in which Democrats have struggled to fend off attacks from Republicans. Mr. Obama during the campaign was sharply critical of former President George W. Bush's war and antiterrorism policies, and Mr. Obama's pledge to close Guantanamo was a major way he differentiated himself from his predecessor's approach.
Now that he is in charge, Mr. Obama has struggled to reconcile his principles with the responsibility of ensuring the nation's safety. He has taken various positions that have angered political allies: saying he would revive Mr. Bush's military commissions; suggesting he opposes prosecuting those involved in harsh interrogations; opposing a "truth commission" to investigate Bush-era abuses; and declining to release photographs showing alleged abuse of detainees, reported AP.