Senate NDAA provision could expedite closing of Guantanamo
A provision in the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 would ease restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees, who have been cleared for release or who have completed their sentences, to their home country or another host country.
Section 1031 of the NDAA would authorize the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to stand trial in the United States, with the exception of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 9/11 co-conspirators. The provision would also allow Guantanamo detainees to receive “critical” or “emergency” medical care in the U.S.
The provision is an attempt by Senate Democrats to expedite the closing of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay.
“While incremental, [Section 1031] would streamline procedures for transferring detainees to other countries and, where appropriate, allow transfers to the United States for trial or detention. These are common sense changes and they are necessary if we are serious about putting an end to this ugly chapter in our history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “As long as Guantanamo remains open, it will serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists, needlessly siphon away critical national security dollars, and discredit America’s historic role as a global leader that defends human rights and the rule of law.”
Although Obama signed a memorandum ordering the closure of Guantanamo’s detention center back in 2009, not much progress has been made since then, mostly due to restrictions imposed by Congress. In May, President Barack Obama renewed his promise to close the controversial detention facility during his national security address at the National Defense University in Fort McNair and called on Congress to lift restrictions on detainee transfers.
Section 1031 would lessen some of the restrictions imposed by prior NDAAs, which prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for trial, banned any federal funds from being used to facilitate the transfer of cleared detainees to other countries, and blocked the transfer of detainees to Yemen or any other country where a previously released detainee was confirmed to have “engaged in any terrorist activity”. These restrictions were imposed after the Justice Department tried to move the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 9/11 co-conspirators to a federal court in New York City.
As of early November, there were 164 detainees and 84 of them – more than half – have been unanimously cleared for transfer by the intelligence community and the military. But those cleared detainees have continued to languish in Guantanamo – at a cost of $2.7 million per detainee per year – because of the congressionally-mandated transfer restrictions, which Leahy has called “unnecessary” and “counterproductive.” (In comparison, the cost to incarcerate an inmate at a federal super-max prison is about $80,000 a year.)
Earlier this year, Guantanamo detainees held mass hunger strikes to protest their indefinite detention and the harsh conditions of their confinement. The U.S. military responded by force-feeding detainees over the vehement objections by numerous human rights and medical ethics organizations.
“Guantanamo has undermined our reputation as a champion of human rights. Countries that respect the rule of law and human rights do not lock away prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. We condemn authoritarian states that carry out such practices and we should not tolerate them for even our worst enemies,” said Leahy. “The status quo at Guantanamo is untenable and I appreciate President Obama’s renewed vow to shutter this unnecessary, expensive, and counterproductive prison. But in order for the President’s plan to be successful, Congress must do its part.”
The 2014 NDAA, with Section 1031 intact, has proceeded to the Senate and House conference, where it will likely be opposed by Republican lawmakers.
“Unfortunately, this year’s Senate Defense Authorization bill creates large loopholes which, if enacted, will result in the transfer of detainees to the shores of our country and permits the easier conveyance of detainees to foreign countries. Let there be no mistake, the bill’s provisions are a fundamental shift from previous years’ Defense Authorization Acts which ensured detainees would not be brought to the United States and would not be transferred to other countries unless reasonable conditions could be met. Accordingly, we will resolutely oppose the inclusion of these sections in the final Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act,” according to the joint statement issued by Senators Jams Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), David Vitter (R-Louisiana), Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report on the 2014 NDAA.
- Thomas.LOC.gov: Senate Armed Services Committee’s report on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014
- Thomas.LOC.gov: S. 1197 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014
- WhiteHouse.gov: Statement by the Press Secretary on the President’s Meeting with Guantanamo Special Envoys – Nov. 4, 2013
- WhiteHouse.gov: Presidential Memorandum–Closure of Detention Facilities at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base – Dec. 15, 2009
- Leahy.Senate.gov: Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Closing Guantanamo
- WhatTheFolly.com: Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy
- WhatTheFolly.com: Obama urges Congress to lift restrictions on detainee transfers, outlines plan to close Guantanamo
- WhatTheFolly.com: Commentary: Abdumutallab’s arrest sealed fate of Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo
- WhatTheFolly.com: Commentary: Obama needs to step up and follow through on promise to close Guantanamo
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