White House presses Senate Dems on detainees

The White House sent a deputy national security adviser to Capitol Hill Wednesday evening to urge Senate Democrats to drop their resistance to relocating Guantanamo Bay detainees to U.S. prisons.

The adviser met with the Democratic Conference for about an hour, pressing them to modify an amendment adopted in May to the war-spending measure that would deny the administration funding to close the prison in Cuba and transfer the prisoners into the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT
Democrats attending the meeting said the White House presentation was met with skepticism.

“There’s some real concerns,” said Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

The Senate passed the war-spending bill — with the amendment — before the Memorial Day recess, but must reconcile its version with a House bill in conference. The Senate vote followed a prolonged debate over $80 million in funds to close the prison, which the chamber voted 90-6 to strip from the supplemental measure until the Obama administration presents a plan for the detainees.

Democrats said the Obama administration’s resolve to close the controversial prison has not wavered. But Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the conference is wrestling with the practicalities of the amendment barring the detainees from the U.S. because there appears to be no other alternative.

Specifically, he said the White House is searching for language to insert in the House-Senate conference report that would somehow allow the prisoners to be tried in the U.S. Durbin said the administration wants to put some of the detainees through military tribunals, for example — but cannot because of the amendment.

“What they’re trying to do is create an alternative,” Durbin said. “They’re trying to create some reasonable ground between the House position and the Senate position that gives the president the authority to bring them into the United States.”

Durbin said there would be “a clear prohibition” against releasing any of the detainees in the U.S., and that Obama only wants the flexibility to imprison them in the country during any trials.

“If they’re going to be brought here for trial, they have to be put in a prison, and that costs money,” he said.

“This is an emotional issue, but at the end of the day I think most people realize we don’t have much choice. To leave Guantanamo open is a problem — not just for the president politically, but for us as a nation. But if you’re not going to keep it open, what are you going to do with (the detainees)? If you send them to another country, they could turn them loose.”