House panel moves to stop detainee transfers

House defense authorizers have adopted legislation that would prohibit President Obama from transferring military detainees from Guantanamo Bay into the United States until the White House has a full risk-mitigation plan.

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The provision included in the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2010 defense authorization bill — which sets policy for the Pentagon — is watered down from language Republicans on the panel sought to include. Republicans sought to prohibit the transfer or release of military prisoners in the United States and require state legislatures and governors to approve the transfer of any detainee into their state.

Instead, the panel approved an amendment offered by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the panel’s chairman. Skelton’s amendment requires the president to present a plan “on what danger the detainees pose to the United States, its territories, and possessions, how the President plans to mitigate this risk and what will happen to individual detainees.”

Skelton’s amendment also directs the president to consult with state governors, Washington's mayor “or the chief executives of the territories or possessions on proposed transfers to their localities.”

The Obama administration last week transferred a Guantanamo detainee for trial in New York City. There are approximately 240 detainees at Guantanamo.

President Obama vowed in the first days of his presidency to close the military detention center by the end of January, but has run into problems in bringing detainees to the U.S. and to foreign countries. Italy this week said it would accept a handful of prisoners, and the tiny island nation of Palau is accepting a group of Uighurs whom the U.S. thinks might be tortured if they were returned to China.

Congress denied Obama the funds he requested for closing Guantanamo in the 2009 war emergency funding bill approved by the House on Tuesday.

Skelton said his plan would preserve both Congress’s right to be informed of plans to move detainees and the rights of states that might object to suspected terrorists being tried or imprisoned within their borders.

“Congress will have plenty of time to review his plan before any detainee is moved, and states’ rights are preserved by requiring that he consult with state governors before submitting it,” Skelton said. “Both our president and [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates have demonstrated solid judgment, and their dedication to supporting a robust national defense will enable us to work together to resolve this issue in a safe way that is acceptable to all concerned.”

The House Armed Services Committee approved the 2010 defense authorization bill in the early hours of Wednesday after a marathon markup session. The bill was approved 61-0.