House votes to halt transfer of Gitmo prisoners
Pushing back against President Obama’s stepped-up plans to close Guantanamo Bay, the House voted this week to stop all transfers of suspected terrorist detainees, to halt the search for alternate locations in the U.S., and even to ax the Pentagon’s two offices trying to shutter the prison.
The votes came as the chamber debated and approved the annual defense spending bill, and signal that congressional Republicans intend to hold firm against Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign goal of closing the prison.
Mr. Obama did emerge with several victories on other military matters, including gaining tacit approval of his war plans in Iraq and Syria, after the House defeated several attempts to update the al Qaeda-era resolution authorizing the use of force against terrorists. And the House preserved military aid to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the rebels in Syria, giving Mr. Obama a continued free hand to fight the Islamic State the way he wants.
But the president had less luck on the domestic front, with the House voting to free the Pentagon from orders that it consider the effects of climate change on its operations, telling him to stop housing illegal immigrant children at military bases and restraining him on Guantanamo.
“The recent reports that detainees released from Guantanamo Bay have gone on to kill at least six Americans underscores the need to prevent the release of terrorists currently in custody in Guantanamo,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Republican who wrote the amendment axing the Pentagon’s special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure and the principal director of detainee policy.
That proposal passed on a 226194 vote.
Mr. Obama had already said he would veto the bill even before the new Guantanamo restrictions were added, and it’s likely that resolve will be strengthened by the new provisions.
Even before that, the provisions will need to be approved by the Senate, where Democrats, who have the power to filibuster, are likely to be skeptical of such broad restrictions.
Congress has tied Mr. Obama’s hands since the beginning of his tenure, stymying his campaign promise to close the facility within a year of taking office. But the new round of House restrictions goes beyond what Congress has imposed before.
One amendment from Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican, would ban all transfers out of Guantanamo, effectively freezing the population. Democrats said it wouldn’t even allow the release of those acquitted in a military commission of any involvement in terrorist activities.
That amendment was approved on a voice vote Wednesday.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, won approval of a ban on even conducting studies for U.S. locations to house detainees. He said that if transferring them to the U.S. is banned, it doesn’t make sense for the Pentagon to spend money trying to prepare for something that won’t happen.
His amendment passed on a 245-175 vote.
“Itwouldobviouslymakeitmuch more difficult to close the prison,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who led the opposition, saying that Guantanamo has become a danger to national security, as well as more costly than bringing suspects to the U.S.
Some 91 detainees are still in Guantanamo, and Mr. Obama hopes to transfer at least some of them to other countries — an option that is allowed, though heavily restricted, under current law.
The defense spending bill is always one of the most intensely fought pieces of legislation. It deals with a large chunk of the discretionary funding available to Congress, and affects bases and military contractors and suppliers across the country, meaning jobs for constituents.
And at a time when the U.S. is boosting its commitments in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the bill served as a forum for policy debates.
Democrats led an effort to try to force Congress to come up with a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to govern the war on terror, saying that the 2001 document is outdated and didn’t envision the current battle with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
But that was rejected in a 285-135 tally that amounts to a vote in favor of Mr. Obama’s current war plans. The House also specifically rejected an effort to end the troubled program to train and equip rebels in Syria.