In response to the Obama administration’s renewed efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Senate Republicans introduced legislation on Wednesday that would codify the detention facility as the primary location for current and future detainees.
“Attorney General Holder and President Obama: Guantanamo Bay is not going to close,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said at a press conference introducing the bill. “I respect Holder, but let me say categorically there is no pathway forward when it comes to closing Guantanamo in the foreseeable future.”
The state-of-the-art military facility has long been a focal point of intense domestic and international criticism over U.S. interrogation practices and indefinite detention. President Obama pledged to close the prison via executive order upon taking office, but his plans have been stymied from the start by tough opposition in Congress. The legislation, dubbed the “Detaining Terrorists to Secure America Act,” would prohibit funding for construction of additional detainment facilities in the United States and restrict the transfer of detainees to foreign countries.
Republicans pushed back against criticism that the prison’s clouded past posed a threat to the security of the country, arguing that Guantanamo remained a vital national security asset, especially for intelligence.
“Whatever image problems that linger around Guantanamo Bay pale in comparison to the risk of not having a prison,” Graham said. “The options are getting limited for our special forces. Without a jail, they are pushed to kill people that would they would otherwise like to capture.”
Freshman Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) cited the recent raid on the compound of Osama bin Laden as grounds to maintain the facility.
“Intelligence collected through detainee interrogations was important and key in making the capture and kill of Osama bin Laden possible,” she said. “A significant portion of this information was obtained at the Guantanamo facility.”
What remains to be seen is what more the Obama administration can do to deliver on a key campaign promise amidst recalcitrant opposition from both parties and a growing national sentiment against any domestic prison facilities that house terrorist suspects. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) hinted at further Republican plans for the legislation, saying that it may be attached to the next defense spending bill later this year. Moreover, the president’s own reversal on a two-year old order last March that halted the military commissions process to try detainees at Guantanamo suggests that the facility as an institution is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Igor Bobic is the assistant editor of Talking Points Memo, helping oversee the site's coverage of politics and policy in Washington. While originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Igor feels best at home on the beaches of Southern California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.