Senators Move to Cut Funding to Nations That Lose Track of Ex-Gitmo Detainees

Provision would provide assurances that detainees don’t rejoin terrorism

Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) / AP
May 25, 2016

A pair of U.S. senators moved Tuesday to reduce funding to foreign nations that lose control of former Guantanamo Bay detainees in an effort to prevent them from returning to terrorism.

Republican Sens. James Lankford (Okla.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) introduced an amendment to the Senate version of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that would substantially reduce foreign aid to countries that lose track of terrorist detainees transferred from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

The Republican-led Senate is considering the annual defense legislation beginning this week.

If approved, the provision would reduce the amount of assistance a country receives by either 10 percent or $10 million—whichever value is smaller—for each detainee transferred in fiscal 2017 who is lost .

Countries who accept prisoners from Guantanamo would be subject to aid reductions in the event a detainee "escapes from confinement by the country or otherwise ceases to be under the custody or control of the country" or "reengages in international terrorism," the amendment states.

Lankford said the provision would help to assure that terrorist suspects detained at Guantanamo do not return to terrorist activities when they are released from U.S. custody.

"The nations who harbor these detainees have the responsibility to closely monitor them," Lankford said in a statement. "This amendment will prevent terrorists from re-entering the fight and remind other nations who may accept them that they are expected to keep these terrorists off the battlefield."

President Obama has fast-tracked the transfers of detainees to foreign nations like Ghana and Saudi Arabia in a controversial push to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which would fulfill a campaign promise. The administration said it intends to transfer as many as 24 detainees out of Guantanamo Bay this summer, Fox News reported Wednesday, which would reduce the prison population to less than 60.

Among the prisoners transferred to foreign countries this year was an al Qaeda explosives expert and a detainee who threatened to cut the throats of Americans upon his release.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated in March that nearly 18 percent of former Guantanamo detainees were confirmed to have reengaged in terrorism, and nearly 13 percent were suspected of resuming terrorist activities.

Lawmakers have expressed concerns about prisoner tranfers from Guantanamo after Ibrahim al-Qosi, a former al Qaeda operative released by the administration to Sudan in 2012, emerged as a key figure in propaganda for al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

"There needs to be real accountability after the administration transferred Ibrahim al-Qosi to Sudan, and Sudan let the former Guantanamo terrorist detainee re-emerge as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s chief recruiter," Kirk said in a statement Tuesday.

"While Gitmo remains the safest and most secure place on the planet to lock up enemy combatants like al-Qosi, any country that accepts Gitmo transferees and loses control of these terrorists should face severe consequences."

The lawmakers filed the amendment Tuesday ahead of the full Senate’s consideration of the defense bill, which begins Wednesday with a procedural vote. Debate on the bill could stretch into June.

Republicans have opposed Obama’s proposal to close Guantanamo, which would move dozens of prisoners deemed too dangerous for release to prisons inside the United States. Current law bars the U.S. military from transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to stateside prisons.

Democrats have sought to facilitate the administration’s efforts to shutter Guantanamo. Republicans successfully blocked an amendment to the House’s version of the fiscal 2017 defense bill that would have allowed Guantanamo detainees to be transferred to the United States.

Obama has argued that Guantanamo serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists and that the prison is contrary to American values.