Senate Gitmo Debate Pushed to Next Week

Posted May 14, 2009 at 2:19pm

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday agreed to defer a fight over the closure of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, until a $91.3 billion supplemental war spending bill hits the Senate floor next week.

Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) included $80 million in his version of the supplemental bill for President Barack Obama’s plan to close the prison, which houses hundreds of suspected terrorists — including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told the panel during consideration of the bill Thursday afternoon that he and other Appropriations Republicans, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), would raise the matter on the floor rather than in committee. Shelby indicated that Inouye and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) had asked him to postpone the fight.

“Mr. Chairman, it is misguided to close a facility housing terrorists when there is no plan,— Shelby told the committee. “The prisoners held at Guantánamo are terrorists. They attacked our nation and killed our citizens, and I believe they pose a threat to our national security, and perhaps our neighborhoods.—

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters earlier Thursday that he is not sure he has the votes on the Senate floor to retain the money. Durbin acknowledged that uncertainty exists because Obama has not laid out a plan for what to do with the detainees when the prison closes at the end of this year and many Senators are fearful those prisoners could be sent to jails in their home states.

But Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested Senate Democrats may end up deciding against funding the prison’s closure altogether. Instead, Reid said the Senate bill may eventually follow the House’s lead in denying Obama the money for the time being.

The House, which is expected to vote Thursday on its nearly $97 billion war supplemental, included provisions that would require Obama to produce a plan for detainee transfers, but bar any transfers for two months after that plan is submitted. Governors also would have to be given 30 days’ notice that prisoners were being relocated to facilities in their states. Additionally, no money could ever be used for the release of any Guantánamo prisoner into the United States, and detainees could not be released to other countries without a report to Congress on the potential security risks that detainee poses.

Most of the House provisions are designed to address Republican concerns, particularly the notion floated by the Obama administration that a handful of Chinese Muslim detainees might be released into the United States because their return to China would certainly involve re-imprisonment.

Inouye’s language would prohibit any money from being used to transport prisoners to the United States and would not give Obama access to the money until he details a plan on what to do with the prisoners. Of the $80 million, $50 million would be used by the Defense Department and $30 million would be obligated to the Justice Department for their reviews of the Guantánamo detainees and interrogation policies employed by the Bush administration.