US Senate Democrats Withhold Funding to Close Guantanamo Prison

20 May 2009

In this photo, reviewed by US military, the exercise yard at Guantanamo's Camp 4 detention facility is pictured before dawn, 14 May 2009
In this photo, reviewed by US military, the exercise yard at Guantanamo's Camp 4 detention facility is pictured before dawn, 14 May 2009
U.S. Senate Democrats have decided not to provide funds to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center until President Barack Obama's administration presents a detailed plan for what to do with the 240 detainees being held there.   It is a setback for Mr. Obama, who wants to close the facility by January of next year.  

In his request to Congress for more funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama had also asked Congress for $80 million to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

But there has been growing criticism, particularly from congressional Republicans, that Mr. Obama should have established a plan for what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo before announcing his decision to close the facility by January 2010.  There is concern that some detainees may be transferred to U.S. soil for trials, continued imprisonment or even release.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said as many as 100 Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to U.S. facilities.

In recent weeks, a number of state legislatures have approved resolutions barring detainees from being transferred to their states.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats decided to strip the war funding bill of the money for Guantanamo's closure until President Obama has a detailed plan for handling the detainees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive responsible plan from the president," said Harry Reid.

The House of Representatives also dropped funding for Guantanamo's closure in its version of the war funding legislation, which passed last week.

At a news conference Tuesday, a group of senators introduced an amendment to the Senate war funding bill that would bar the release of Guantanamo detainees on to U.S. soil.

Among them was Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina:

"Our immigration laws prohibit the release of a terrorist operative within the United States," said Lindsey Graham. "What we are saying is that we are enforcing that law, that under our amendment, any Guantanamo Bay detainee that is ordered released cannot be released within the United States because they have no legal status to be released.  They would be in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, to be repatriated to another country."

At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged the congressional concerns, and said President Obama would address the detainee issue in a speech on Thursday.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he hopes Mr. Obama will reconsider his decision on Guantanamo.

"I am confident and hopeful that he will now - getting this clear message from both the House and Senate on the appropriations bill - begin to rethink the appropriateness of an arbitrary timeline for the closing of Guantanamo," said  Mitch McConnell.

But at the Pentagon, spokesman Geoff Morrell said the administration still plans to close the facility in early 2010.

"I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy," he said. "As far as I can tell, everything remains on track for action to be taken with regards to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility according to the timeline proscribed by the president in the executive order."

The Senate could act on the $91-billion bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and provide aid to Pakistan as early as this week.   The Senate and House versions of the legislation would have to be reconciled before a final bill is sent to President Obama for his signature.