Lawmakers Balk at Holding Guantanamo Bay Detainees in U.S.

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009

Worried that some former Guantanamo Bay detainees may end up on U.S. soil, congressional Republicans and Democrats are sharply questioning President Obama's plans for closing the military prison in Cuba.

The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee yesterday passed a bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while stripping the more than $50 million that administration officials had requested for closing the prison and starting the relocation of its 240 prisoners.

Lawmakers criticized the administration for not yet offering a detailed plan on prisoner relocation.

Republicans, who have said the issue is an example of Obama's weakness on national security, accused the president of endangering Americans. They proposed legislation dubbed the "Keep Terrorists Out of America Act," which would bar moving Guantanamo prisoners to a U.S. facility unless the receiving state's governor and legislature approved.

"Our constituents don't want these terrorists in their neighborhoods," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.).

It was the latest attempt by the GOP to question the new president's policy on national security. Party members also blasted Obama for his cordial greeting last month of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, known for his anti-U.S. rhetoric.

But several Democrats have joined Republicans in saying they do not want Guantanamo prisoners in their states or districts. When officials in Hardin, Mont., a city that has a prison with no inmates, said they would accept detainees from Guantanamo Bay, the state's Democratic senators shot down the idea.

Administration officials have not said where the detainees would go, but they rejected the idea that Americans would face any risks from closing the prison by January. Obama announced his plan to close the facility on his third day in office, casting it as one of a series of sharp breaks with the Bush administration.

"We are not going to put at risk the safety of the people of this country," Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a hearing yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

But administration officials have said it will be hard to get other countries to accept prisoners if the United States won't take any.

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, defended the relocation proposal, noting that a prison in Florence, Colo., already houses terrorism figures. Among them is Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens as part of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Obey also noted that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and other prominent Republicans had backed closing the prison.

Most Democrats have supported Obama's idea of closing the prison, and the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment proposed by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) that would ban the the use of any funding to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the continental United States.

Democrats instead passed a resolution directing the administration to produce a detailed plan by Oct. 1.

"You cannot close Guantanamo unless you have a plan," said Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).

"I wouldn't want them, and I wouldn't take them," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). "I don't see a solution."

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