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Parties Differ on Guantánamo Bay Closure

Democrats and Republicans provided sharply different reactions Tuesday to President Barack Obama’s decision to transfer terrorist detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Thomson, Ill., with the GOP condemning the decision while Democrats largely were backing the move.

The proposal, announced by the White House on Tuesday, will likely require Congress to amend current law to provide funding to transfer detainees and house them in Thomson, as well as to end an existing prohibition on indefinite detentions within the United States.

Republicans were quick to denounce the move as an unnecessary risk to U.S. citizens as well as a violation of current law.

“The American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress have already rejected bringing terrorists to U.S. soil for long-term detention, and current law prohibits it. The administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping these terrorists off of our shores in the secure facility in Cuba,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) provided perhaps the harshest critique, invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks in his denunciation of the plan.

“I was here at the Capitol on September the 11th. I watched the smoke rise from the Pentagon. I walked in the ashes of Ground Zero one week later. Terrorism is not theoretical to me. That’s why, like most Americans, I was astonished to read this morning’s press reports that the Obama Administration is about to transfer over seventy known dangerous terrorists from the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay outside the United States to a prison inside the United States in the heartland of America,” Pence said in a statement.

Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who is one of several Republicans running to fill Obama’s former Senate seat next year, called the decision an “unnecessary risk.”

“Without a vote, public hearing or detailed plan, the administration is moving quickly to force the citizens of Illinois to accept this unnecessary risk. The citizens of Illinois deserve better,” said Kirk, who has vacillated between being harshly critical of the proposal and offering more cautious criticism over the past several months.

Although a number of Democrats ­— including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) — were mum on the topic Tuesday afternoon, other Democrats hailed the decision.

“I have opposed measures to prohibit the transfer of detainees to federal prisons in the past because our facilities in the United States are clearly capable of securely holding detainees. Maximum security facilities are both safe and secure,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) said. “President Obama is taking prudent steps to ensure we are able to finally close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Doing so will make us safer and is critical to restoring our reputation as a nation of laws. I am committed to working with him to accomplish this goal, and I hope that others in Congress will join me.”

Similarly, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who has been a major backer of the proposal to move detainees to his home state, praised the decision in a joint statement with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D). “This move will have a tremendously positive impact on the local economy — creating more than 3,000 jobs and injecting more than $1 billion into the local economy. This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good-paying jobs and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois,” the two Democrats said.

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

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