House votes to ban Gitmo transfers
The House late Thursday night approved a proposal to prohibit federal dollars from being used for transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees in light of the controversy over Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release.
Rep. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) amendment to the 2015 Defense appropriations bill, adopted 230-184, would effectively prevent the Obama administration from releasing Guantanamo Bay prisoners to other countries.
Cotton, who is running for Senate in a competitive race against Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), argued his amendment was necessary after the Obama administration exchanged Bergdahl, the last prisoner of war in Afghanistan, for five Taliban detainees.”It simply shows the judgment of this Congress, the people’s representatives, that these remaining 149 detainees are too dangerous to be cavalierly released to a country without adequate constraints or notification to Congress,” Cotton said.
But Democrats like Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said steps should instead be taken to close the Guantanamo Bay facility instead of limiting the administration’s ability to reduce the number of detainees.
“For far too long over the course of this war, we’ve let our fear triumph over our commitment to the rule of law,” Moran said.
The Virginia Democrat later offered his own amendment, rejected 163-249, that would undo provisions in the bill that prohibit funds from being used to release or transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees, as well as block funds for constructing facilities to house the prisoners in the U.S.
Moran, who offered a similar amendment to the 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science bill, said the Bergdahl controversy illustrated the need to close Guantanamo. He noted that it costs the federal government $2.7 million per Guantanamo detainee annually, while prisoners at U.S. maximum security prisons cost only $34,000 per year.
“If we had dealt with these individuals in a responsible and legal way, we wouldn’t be in this discussion of the merits to the release five of them,” Moran said.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said the legislation simply reflected existing law banning Guantanamo transfers.
“Quite honestly, they need to remain there,” Frelinghuysen said. “The threat is real.”
A third amendment offered by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) that would prohibit the use of funds to detain a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for more than 15 years without conviction failed 62-355.
“We are holding these people in that prison, all of them, the innocent and the guilty, apparently forever and ever and ever,” Grayson said. “We Americans are better than this. There has to be some kind of limitation.”
But Frelinghuysen said instituting a limitation would set dangerous prisoners free.
“How will [Grayson] ensure the terrorists returned overseas don’t return to the fight?” Frelinghuysen said.
He also argued that the facility provided modern conditions for the detainees.
“Our nation has invested millions of dollars in building safe, humane, and I may say, air-conditioned facilities to detain and prosecute the detainees at Guantanamo,” Frelinghuysen said.
Earlier Thursday, the House adopted an amendment from Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) that would prohibit the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen.