Under pressure from Congressional leaders, President Barack Obama hopes to provide Congress with his plan sometime this fall for closing the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, military prison in order to secure the funding he needs to shutter the controversial facility by his self-imposed January 2010 deadline, administration officials indicated Friday.
Three administration task forces have been working on how to deal with the more than 200 suspected terrorist detainees held at the prison, but the task force charged with coming up with a comprehensive policy for holding current and future detainees asked for a six-month extension of its original July 21 deadline.
We do expect to communicate with Congress about our plans this fall, said one administration official. The detention policy task force is expected to answer questions related to Guantánamo sooner than they answer questions about future detention policy [on] what to do with combatants picked up on the battlefield today.
Senate Democratic leaders have told senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, that they will not provide the administration money to close the facility nor to transfer detainees to prisons in the United States without a comprehensive plan for doing so.
Those White House officials have been told, The mood of our caucus was that we could not and would not act until the White House puts forward a plan, said one senior Senate Democratic aide.
Congressional leaders are on a tight timeline to provide funding for the closure, given the statutory deadline for completion of appropriations bills is Sept. 30. While Congress is unlikely to meet that deadline for all 12 spending bills, it would be considered unusual for Democrats to hold back passing the Defense Department appropriations bill ¬ the most likely place for Guantánamo funding if it is otherwise noncontroversial.
Both Obama and Congressional Democrats decided earlier this year to include war funding in the regular appropriations bills a situation that makes it even more politically risky to hold back Defense funding while waiting for a Guantánamo Bay prison closure plan.
Another senior Senate Democratic aide held out the possibility that, in the absence of an administration plan, Congress could decide to put the funding in another spending measure.
We can have a Guantánamo fight on C-J-S, the aide said, referencing the shorthand moniker of the Commerce, justice and science appropriations bill. Were going to have a Guantánamo fight before the end of the year whether we want to or not.
While the House has already passed its Defense spending measure, the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up its version. A panel spokesman said the committee plans to consider the bill soon after Congress returns from recess in September. However, it is not yet clear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring it to the floor before Sept. 30.
The administration asked Congress for $80 million in this years supplemental war spending bill, but concerns among Democrats about where current detainees might be sent and potential national security questions killed that funding.
Instead, Democrats decided to prohibit the administration from transferring prisoners to the United States, except for trial, and required the president to submit a classified report to Congress on each individual detainee before the prison is closed.
The administrations detainee review task force is expected to complete its evaluation of individual detainees by the end of October, a second administration official said. That individual review includes whether a prisoner can be prosecuted in civilian or military courts, should be released to another country, or should continue to be held without charges.
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