WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba slammed into a wall of Republican opposition on Tuesday, stopping cold Obama’s hope for a bipartisan effort to “close a chapter” that began in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The long-awaited proposal, which was requested by Congress, is Obama’s last attempt to make good on an unfulfilled campaign promise by persuading Congress to change the law that prohibits moving detainees accused of violent extremist acts to U.S. soil. Fourteen years after the facility opened and seven years after Obama took office, the president argued it was “finally” time to shutter a facility that has sparked persistent legal battles, become a recruitment tool for Islamic militants and garnered strong opposition from some allies abroad.
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement.
“The president’s move down the unlawful path to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is reckless – especially after numerous Department of Defense officials and his own Attorney General confirmed it is against the law. Over the last seven years, this administration has been incapable of presenting a comprehensive, legally justifiable closure and relocation strategy that maintains the safety and security of Americans, and I don’t anticipate the plan presented to Congress today will provide any substantive planning or legal justification.
“I remain committed to blocking the transfer of Guantanamo detainees anywhere in the United States, especially Fort Leavenworth. The critical mission of the Command and General Staff College in educating military members from ally nations across the world would be compromised. We must safeguard the missions on Fort Leavenworth, the nearly 14,000 military and civilian personnel and their family members, and the thousands of Kansans who live in the Leavenworth community.”
“I don’t want to pass this problem onto the next president, whoever it is,” Obama said in an appearance at the White House. “If we don’t do what’s required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and justice and our best American traditions was clear.”
Despite the big ambitions, Obama’s proposed path remained unclear. The plan leaves unanswered the politically thorny question of where in the U.S a new facility would be located. It offered broad cost estimates. The White House described it as more of a conversation starter than a definitive outline.
Republican leaders in Congress showed no interest in having that conversation.
“We will review President Obama’s plan but since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he knows that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama had yet to convince Americans that moving detainees to U.S. soil is “smart or safe.”
“It is against the law — and it will stay against the law,” Ryan said.
Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war and an advocate of closing the prison, called Obama’s report a “vague menu of options,” which does not include a policy for dealing with future detainees.
Obama has “missed a major chance to convince the Congress and the American people that he has a responsible plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” he said.
It’s not clear whether that chance ever existed. Momentum to close the facility has slowed dramatically under Obama’s tenure. Congress remains deadlocked on far less contentious matters, and the issue has little resonance on the presidential campaign trail.
U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) Tuesday said the administration’s report on alternative locations to detain terrorists currently held at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center is short on details and serves little purpose but to varnish the President’s failed national security legacy.
“The absence of a specific recommendation for an alternative location proves that there is no suitable location. The Congress and the American people are against the President’s desire to move these terrorists to the heart of any American community. It is against the law. Like most of the President’s attempts to skirt the law and enact his agenda, doubtlessly this action will end up in the courts.
“The plan leaves the details to Congress, which has overwhelmingly and time after time, opposed this action in the first place.
“I reject the President’s rational that closing GITMO will stop the ability of terrorists to recruit new jihadis. This notion is ridiculous. It will simply establish a GITMO north. Given the ever growing threat of ISIS and reports that future battlefield captures are inevitable, the President cannot prove closing the facility will improve our security, no matter how much he wishes it so. Nothing in this report substantiates his assertions.
“There is no intelligence estimate of the threat it may pose to those living and working in these communities. It will be at great cost to the American people both in precious taxpayer dollars and most important, in their safety and peace of mind.
“Kansans and those in Fort Leavenworth are against this transfer and are angry at this President who risks their security in forcing this threat upon them. In fact, most Kansans say this action is further grounds for impeachment. I will continue to fight the President no matter where he wants to send terrorists to our shores.
“I will continue to consider all options available to me under the Constitution. It is incumbent upon me to protect the security of my constituents and the American people. My holds on the President’s nominees will continue including the nominee to be the Secretary of the Army and on the nominee to be the General Counsel of the Department of Defense.”
Still, for Obama, the facility stands as painful reminder of the limits on his power: His first executive order sketched out a timeline for closing the prison, but was ultimately derailed by Congress.
The White House has not ruled out the possibility that the president may again attempt to close the prison through executive action — a move that would directly challenge Congress’ authority. The plan submitted Tuesday does not address that option.
Instead, the proposal reflects the administration’s strategy of shrinking the population, hoping the cost of housing the diminished population would ultimately make closure inevitable.
Under the plan, roughly 35 of the 91 current detainees will be transferred to other countries in the coming months, leaving up to 60 detainees who are either facing trial by military commission or have been determined to be too dangerous to release but are not facing charges.
Those detainees would be relocated to a U.S. facility that could cost up to $475 million to build, but would ultimately be offset by as much as $180 million per year in operating cost savings. The annual operating cost for Guantanamo is $445 million. The U.S. facilities would cost between $265 million and $305 million to operate each year, according to the proposal.
The plan considers, but does not name, 13 different locations in the U.S., including seven existing prison facilities in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas, as well as six other locations at current correctional facilities on state, federal or military sites in several states. It also notes that there could be all new construction on existing military bases. The plan doesn’t recommend a preferred site.
Naming a site would have certainly further antagonized some members of Congress. Those representing South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado already have voiced opposition to housing the detainees in their states.
Advocates of closing Guantanamo say the prison has long been a recruiting tool for militant groups and that holding extremists suspected of violent acts indefinitely without charges or trial sparks anger and dismay among U.S. allies.
Opponents, however, say changing the detention center’s ZIP code won’t eliminate that problem.
Obama’s proposal faced criticism even from those who endorse closing the detention center. His initial campaign pledge was widely viewed as a promise to end the practice of detaining prisoners indefinitely without charge, not to bring that practice to the U.S., said Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program.
“Whatever the president proposes, even if it doesn’t come to fruition, the administration is changing the goal posts on this issue,” she said.
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