Gitmo’s Standing

Republicans starting to splinter on terrorist prison

Guantanamo Bay / AP
• June 10, 2013 1:34 pm


A battle is brewing on Capitol Hill over the future of the 166 terrorists still in custody at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, as once-reticent Republicans warm up to the idea of transferring the terrorists stateside.

Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough released a joint statement over the weekend vowing to close the facility and transfer the remaining terrorists "to other locations."

"We continue to believe that it is in our national interest to end detention at Guantanamo, with a safe and orderly transition of the detainees to other locations," the bipartisan trio said in a joint statement late Friday, after wrapping up a visit to Gitmo. "We intend to work, with a plan by Congress and the administration together, to take the steps necessary to make that happen."

Their statement follows President Barack Obama’s recent call to "designate a site in the U.S." where military commissions and trials can be held for the terrorists.

However, some House and Senate Republicans are working to appropriate a large cash influx that could make the Cuba-based facility permanent.

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds all yearly defense operations, would provide around $500 million to upgrade the facility and ensure it remains home to scores of high-priority terrorists.

The bill upholds a "prohibition against transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States or to countries with confirmed cases of transferred detainees returning to the fight," according to a summary of the NDAA issued by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), which authored the bill.

The NDAA is expected to be taken up and passed the House on Tuesday.

The bill "would authorize the replacement of dilapidating, temporary facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to ensure that the detainees are provided adequate detention facilities and the military personnel are provided sufficient quality of life supporting infrastructure."

More than $260 million is slated to go toward various construction projects to upgrade and improve conditions for U.S. personnel stationed at the detention center.

The bill also allocates more than $1.6 million per prisoner each year, and orders the construction of new barracks, according to the Huffington Post.

The NDAA, in its current form, would require the State Department "to report on former terrorist detainees who have been released and subsequently become leaders in a foreign terrorist organization."

There is evidence that terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield to commit acts of terrorism against the West. Some have even joined up with jihadist forces fighting the civil war in Syria, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), rejected his colleague’s calls to close the prison.

"It never ceases to amaze me that individuals continue to try and close Guantanamo Bay," Inhofe said in a statement over the weekend, following McCain and Feinstein’s trip.

"It would be extremely unwise to allow the most dangerous terrorists and members of al Qaeda, including those who planned the 2001 9/11 attacks to be transferred to the U.S.," Inhofe said. "These terrorists certainly cannot be allowed to infiltrate our federal prison system where they could continue to spread violent extremism from within our borders."

Inhofe said if lawmakers capitulate to pressure from detainees who are currently on a hunger strike, the "terrorists win."

"It appears to me this latest push to close GITMO is because the terrorists have begun a hunger strike," Inhofe said.

"Is this hunger strike not a political act designed to attempt to change American policy?" Inhofe asked. "My question to the far left is: if you close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay are you not letting the terrorists win?"

Capitol Hill insiders said that the issue of closing Gitmo has plagued lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

"The status of Gitmo remains one of the most complex legal and security issues we as a nation have ever dealt with," one senior GOP official said. "For Republicans, it's a lighting rod security issue for the base—closing Gitmo and moving the Al Qaeda core to places where they could return to the battlefield is completely unacceptable to most Republicans."

"For Democrats," the source added, "it's a lighting rod due process issue—the very concept of indefinite detention without trial is an anathema to any liberal."

Even as some Republicans back calls to shutter Gitmo, the source said there are few signs this will happen in the near future.

"In the end, the politics are on the Republican side," the official said. "There's a reason why Gitmo didn't close in 2009 or 2010 when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress."

Obama threatened to veto the NDAA last year over similar language preventing the transfer of Gitmo detainees to the United States for trials.

A controversy also ignited over an amendment in the 2013 version that would have granted terrorists legal rights.

The failed amendment, authored by Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.), would have allowed terrorists to be prosecuted in civilian courts.