Senate & House reach compromise on Gitmo detainee transfer provisions in 2014 NDAA

A compromise reached by the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees would ease restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release to foreign countries but maintain the prohibition on detainee transfers to the United States.

The deal was announced yesterday by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The bill basically takes half of what we did in the Senate and passes it, and that is to give flexibility to the President to transfer detainees from Guantanamo to third countries. It maintains the prohibition on transferring detainees here for trial and detention,” said Levin. “About half of the detainees…could be transferred to their third world countries from which they come. About half the detainees would remain in Guantanamo because of the prohibition on transferring to the United States for detention and for trial.”

The latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 would include provisions that would authorize the Secretary of Defense to transfer detainees who have completed their sentences or who have been determined to pose “no longer a threat to U.S. security” to foreign countries. The bill would also ease the detainee transfer certification requirements to ensure that “action has been taken or will be taken to mitigate the risk of detainee re-engaging in terrorist activity”.

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 because of the congressionally-mandated transfer restrictions. The deal, if passed by the House and Senate this month, would help expedite detainee transfers to foreign countries.

“The proposed defense bill is the first step toward untangling the knot that is Guantanamo,” said Dixon Osburn, Director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First. “It provides a path forward for foreign transfers that balances our security interests and our legal obligations.”

Read more: Senate NDAA provision could expedite closing of Guantanamo

However, the Levin-McKeon compromise would leave out provisions in the Senate-approved NDAA that would have allowed Guantanamo detainees to enter the United States to stand trial in federal court, serve their time in federal prisons, or receive emergency or critical medical treatments.

Continuing the ban on detainee transfers to the U.S. would further delay the Obama administration’s efforts to close the detention facility in Guantanamo, which is costing U.S. taxpayers more than $554.1 million to operate in 2013. (That amounts to nearly $2.7 million per detainee per year; in comparison, it costs about $80,000 to incarcerate one inmate in a federal supermax prison per year.)

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