Congress uses spending bills to halt closing of Guantanamo Bay prison

Lawmakers are using their authority to direct federal spending to prevent the Obama administration from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

In their race to complete a dozen appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began this week, members of both chambers are including policy language aimed at halting the administration’s decision to transfer prisoners from the Cuban facility to prisons in their districts.

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The latest example came on Thursday when the House instructed conferees negotiating with the Senate on a final version of the Homeland Security spending bill to include language prohibiting the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil. The bill already includes a provision prohibiting the detainees from air travel within or to the United States.

Appropriators have placed Guantanamo provisions into at least four other bills. The Senate Defense spending bill, which has yet to pass the chamber, and the House-approved version would also block the use of federal money for the transfer of detainees to the United States. The House Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill and the State Department spending bill would block 2010 federal funding for the closure of the prison. Those bills have been passed by the House and are awaiting Senate action.

Rep. Harold Rogers (Ky.), the GOP appropriator who called for Thursday’s House vote on Gitmo, said the restrictions are needed to prevent the entry of terror detainees to the United States. The Obama administration has pledged to close the prison, but it hasn't told lawmakers what it would do with the detainees. Rogers and Republicans have used the uncertainty to suggest that the detainees could end up endangering Americans in their own communities.

"Where will they go?" Rogers said in a floor speech. "Europe, Fiji, maybe somewhere closer. Maybe in Michigan, maybe in Kansas, maybe somewhere else in the U.S. Who knows."

House Democratic leadership opposed Rogers's motion, but 88 Democrats ended up voting for it along with all but sevn GOP members. The motion was approved, 258-163.

Included in the motion was another instruction: to block the release of detainee photos.

Prior to the vote, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) signaled that some language restricting the White House's push to close Guantanamo will make it into the spending bills to be signed by President Barack Obama.

"What will emerge from conference, I suspect, will be language that any reasonable person will be able to say is a good-faith, effective process by which we can keep Americans safe and still continue to stand for the due principles that we have always stood for," Obey said on the House floor Thursday before voting against Rogers’s motion.

Congress first moved to restrict the White House's moves on Guantanamo in June, when it passed a war-spending bill that forbade federal money to shut Guantanamo down.

Obey, who opposed another appropriations restriction on Guantanamo policy, called Congress "an unjointed turkey" for criticizing Obama while failing to come up with its own plan for the prison, where hundreds have been held without being charged.

Obey said that the American court system could handle the detainees, just as it has handled serial killers and other terrorists.

“Has this country, this country that has even tried the worst criminals in the history of the world at Nuremberg, has this country experienced such a pitiful decline of modern thoughtful political leadership that we now have no capacity except to say lock them up forever, no questions asked, and no due process provided under any circumstances?" Obey said.