Congress Refuses to Seriously Address the Guantanamo Issue

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Friday, October 9, 2009

CONGRESS continues its irrational and damaging bluster over the fate of detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to forbid the use of federal funds to bring detainees to the United States -- for any reason, including prosecution. The House approved a similar, nonbinding measure last week.

This approach is even more unjustified than Congress's first foray into the matter in May, when it prohibited the Obama administration from releasing any detainees -- even those cleared during the Bush administration -- into the United States. The May provision also required that the administration give Congress advance warning before any detainee is transferred to the United States for prosecution or to another country for release.

The grownups in the House and Senate stepped back from the abyss this week by chucking the blanket prohibitions against U.S. transfers and reverted to the unnecessary but less objectionable hurdles erected in May. The restrictions will stay in place until December 2010.

Yet to hear some of the bombast coming from the Capitol, you might have thought that congressional negotiators had agreed to arm detainees and set them loose in the heartland. Never mind that any prisoners brought to the United States for prosecution or continued detention would likely be housed in high-security prisons that have held violent offenders, including those convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, without ever suffering an escape. Some, such as Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), tried to further capitalize on the development by blasting the compromise on fiscal grounds, charging that "the liberal leadership has cleared the way for terrorists to be tried in U.S. courts and housed in U.S. detention facilities all at U.S. taxpayers' expense." Who does Mr. Culberson believe is paying for the detentions at Guantanamo if not the U.S. taxpayer?

These policies have made it almost impossible for the administration to shutter a detention facility that has triggered nothing but international scorn. The U.S refusal to allow even one cleared detainee into the country -- coupled with the rantings from Capitol Hill -- have made it that much more difficult to persuade allies to take in those who have been ordered released. And the failure to discuss seriously the creation of a legal framework to hold the 50 to 100 detainees who cannot be tried in federal courts but who may be too dangerous to release leaves open the possibility of indefinite detention with little or no legitimacy -- regardless of where the prisoners are held.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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