Policy

McCain Bill Reignites Debate Over Guantanamo

Pentagon could plan stateside facility to house detainees

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire discuss President Barack Obama's proposal to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in February. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense bill is reigniting a long-simmering debate over the Guantanamo Bay detention facility with a new provision that would allow the Defense Department to plan and design a stateside facility to one day house the detainees.  

The text of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill, obtained by CQ Roll Call, would keep existing prohibitions on Guantanamo’s closure, including blocking any funds authorized in the bill to be used for actually constructing a stateside replacement.  

But the new provision related specifically to designing and planning for a new or modified prison opens the door ever so slightly to ultimately closing the much-maligned facility. President Barack Obama has tried to shutter the prison since the outset of his administration without success.  

The Senate is expected to debate the authorization measure next week.  

[Defense Bill Passes After Democrats Last-Ditch Attempts to Change it]

The administration released a Guantanamo closure plan in February at the behest of Congress. But the report, which was months in the making, did not recommend any specific replacement sites — a fact that irritated Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona.  

The former POW inserted a provision in the fiscal 2016 defense bill demanding the administration submit a detailed roadmap for Guantanamo's closure. McCain has said he would try to sell the administration’s plan to his reluctant colleagues, if there was a viable alternative to the prison.  

But the report delivered to Congress in February provided few details and fell short of his expectations. The administration’s proposal said there are 13 potential sites in the United States to house the detainees, including federal, Defense Department and state correctional facilities, but did not name any of the locations.  

[White House: Guantánamo Closure Remains Obama Priority]

At the time, McCain called the administration’s proposal a “vague menu of options , not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo.”  

“The president has still yet to say how and where he will house both current and future detainees, including those his administration has deemed as too dangerous to release,” the Arizona Republican said in a statement. “Rather than identify specific answers to those difficult questions, the president has essentially passed the buck to the Congress.”   

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