WASHINGTON ― Republicans voted again Thursday to tie President Barack Obama’s hands on one more issue for the remainder of his presidency, barring him from moving captives from the Guantanamo Bay prison facility for any reason.
Congress has regularly restricted transfers from the naval facility in Cuba, and has expressly barred moving war on terror detainees to the United States mainland.
But there were exceptions that allowed military and intelligence agency officials to transfer prisoners after elaborate reviews. When Obama took office, the Bush administration had already transferred 500 inmates from the facility, leaving 240 behind. Obama has whittled that down to 61, and has cleared 20 of them for release.
Republicans decided Thursday that the president should not have the authority to make such decisions for the rest of his term, saying he only wants to fulfill a campaign promise to close Gitmo, regardless of the consequences.
“With President Obama’s time in office winding down, accelerating transfers to achieve a campaign promise puts Americans at risk,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.). “I am grateful to stand here with the national security leaders in this House on this bill, and to remind the American people that our first priority is the safety and security of our fellow Americans.”
Democrats saw it very differently. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, noted that the vast majority of released detainees who have gone on to threaten America again were among the 500 released by President George W. Bush.
The Obama administration launched its own review process before starting to release more of the prisoners, and since then just 5.6 percent have been linked to any sort of threat to the nation after being let go, Smith said.
Further, he argued that to arbitrarily decide to imprison people who have been cleared by intelligence and national security officials for release was profoundly un-American.
“What this side is saying, once you have been suspected ― even if it turns out [officials] were completely wrong in that suspicion ― sorry, we’re just going to lock you up for the rest of your life without due process or possibility of trial,” Smith said. “That is unbelievably unconstitutional. And just flat wrong.”
On top of that, Democrats suggested that the extraordinary step reflected a deep personal animus against Obama.
“This expires either when we pass the next [defense authorization bill] or when the next president takes office. It says in effect this president is not really our president for all practical purposes,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
He added that by taking such a step, Republicans were clearly expressing their dislike.
“We don’t trust the president to act as president. We repudiate the judgment of the American people made in the last election,” Nadler said, referring to the GOP. “We say that for certain purposes, his term has expired and we’ll wait for the next president. That also is pernicious and against our constitutional values. On every level, this bill is probably unconstitutional and certainly immoral.”
Nadler compared the vote to the Senate Republicans’ decision to block Obama from filing the vacancy on the Supreme Court, which will remain empty for more than a year as a result.
The Guantanamo Bay measure is unlikely to move in the Senate, where it can be filibustered by Democrats.
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