Reid blocks defense bill, citing language perpetuating Guantánamo status quo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is blocking the Defense authorization bill from floor consideration because of provisions that would keep the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in business, prompting Republican protest.

Reid sent a letter to Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the panel’s ranking Republican, protesting the bill’s language related to terrorist detainees.

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The legislation, which was voted out of committee with a strong bipartisan majority, would authorize indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, require mandatory military custody of suspected terrorists and put stringent restrictions on the transfer of detainees to the civilian court system.

Reid says he will not bring the bill to the Senate floor unless those provisions are dropped or modified, citing President Obama’s opposition to the language.

“I do not intend to bring this bill to the floor until concerns regarding the bill’s detainee provisions are resolved,” Reid wrote in the Oct. 4 letter. “The Obama administration and several of our Senate colleagues have expressed serious concerns about the implications of the detainee provisions included in the legislation,” Reid wrote.

This drew a complaint from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Tuesday that Reid should allow the Senate to debate the issue openly on the floor.

“My request to the majority leader would be to move to the National Defense Authorization Act at the soonest possible moment to allow the Senate to debate and amend the bill,” McConnell said.

“If there are members on the other side who support the White House effort to bring unlawful enemy combatants into the United States for purposes of detention and civilian trial, the Senate can debate that matter during consideration of the bill,” he added.

McConnell said the provisions in the defense bill are critical to keeping detainees held at Guantánamo from returning to the battlefield in Yemen and other hot spots.

Reid, however, noted the bill, unless amended, would make it impossible to “turn the page on Guantanamo”, citing a recent speech by Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan.