Op-Ed: U.S. House Defense Bill blocks Guantanamo closure

Posted Jun 4, 2013 by Ken Hanly
In the U.S. the Armed Services Committee has drafted a bill that would bar the Obama administration from either transferring terror suspects to the United States or to a foreign country such as Yemen.
Guantanamo Bay  Cuba: Guard Force Troopers transport a detainee to the detainee hospital
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: Guard Force Troopers transport a detainee to the detainee hospital
U.S. Navy / Michael Billings
The provisions governing the fate of the 166 detainees are part of a defense policy bill drafted by the chair of the committee, Howard McKeon a Republican from California.
The main portions of the bill authorize $638 billion for the military beginning on Oct. 1 including $86 billion for war costs. The committee added in $5 billion to compensate for the automatic spending cuts due to the sequester provisions. The full bill will probably not be voted on until the summer and then differences between it and the version coming from the Democratic controlled Senate will need to be worked out.
However, the provisions on Guantanamo will prevent Obama from going ahead with plans to transfer some detainees to Yemen and to transfer any to the U.S. Obama noted that the continued indefinite detention of inmates many of whom are cleared for transfer, flouts the rule of law. In his recent speech at the National Defense University Obama said:"Given my administration's relentless pursuit of al-Qaida's leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened,"
Obama also lifted the ban on transferring prisoners to Yemen. He promised that the status of each Yemeni detainee would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. A facility in Yemen is already being planned in Yemen to which detainees could be transferred for rehabilitation. Obama promised: "To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee,"
McKeon said that he is open for any proposal to close Guantanamo but criticized the Obama administration for not presenting a workable plan as to what to do with detainees or to provide alternative facilities to house future terrorists. Given that the Republicans will not countenance sending Yemenis back to Yemen or other detainees to facilities in the US, it is hard to see what type of workable plan the Republicans have in mind.
The draft bill would prohibit the government from spending any money to construct or modify structures in the U.S. to be used to house Guantanamo inmates. This restriction would apply through 2014 from the time of enactment. The bill also bars any money being spent to transfer detainees to the U.S. or any foreign country. Perhaps the Pentagon is not actually opposed to these restrictions. For some time there were plans to spend funds to upgrade the facilities at Guantanamo.
The Pentagon requested $450 million for upgrading in its most recent budget. This request would hardly be going forward if Guantanamo was expected to close soon. In his speech Obama pointed out that the U.S. spent $150 million each year to house only 166 prisoners, by the far the most expensive jail in the U.S. system, at almost one million per year per prisoner.
The McKeon bill allows the Pentagon to spend money to upgrade Guantanamo. The bill would also include $247.4 million for military construction there. Much of the money would be spent to improve the barracks of the guards. Representative Adam Smith a Democrat from Washington State said that the expenditures were a waste of money and Guantanamo should be closed.
Obama will now be able to complain that it is Congress and the Republicans who are blocking his renewed attempts to close Guantanamo. Perhaps this will not create much in the way of political headwinds in the U.S. but in places such as Yemen, relations with the U.S. could turn quite sour and nasty since they are expecting real action on transfer of their detained citizens back to Yemen.
Obama could speed up the process of repatriating Yemeni's and make sure that they are all back in Yemen before this bill passes.