By Alexander Bolton - 06/04/14 01:46 PM EDT
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Wednesday that Republican lawmakers would call for President Obama’s impeachment if he released more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay without congressional approval.
Republicans worry Obama may try to shut down the prison camp unilaterally after congressional opposition has repeatedly stymied efforts to pass legislation to close it.
Graham served as a House prosecutor during former President Clinton’s 1998 impeachment trial.
Congress tried to build in a safeguard against Obama making unilateral decisions on releasing terrorist detainees by including language in the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the administration to alert Congress of such moves at least 30 days in advance.
Obama did not follow that law when he swapped five senior Taliban commanders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.), the Democratic chairman of the Armed Services panel, said Obama had a plausible legal argument for ignoring the law.
“The White House did not comply with the requirement of the 30-day provision. However, the White House said it had power under Article II of the Constitution to do what it did,” Levin said. “I’m not a court that’s going to decide whether or not under Article II the commander in chief has the power to move this quickly even though Congress said you’ve got to give 30 days notice.”
Levin said Congress was notified that Obama might not follow the NDAA’s requirement in a signing statement attached to the law.
“The executive branch must have the flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,” Obama asserted in his Dec. 26 statement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday applauded Obama’s decision to release five Taliban leaders because it would hasten the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
“My own personal opinion, Guantanamo has been there far too long, and I think that we should get them out of there as quickly as we can,” he said.
Reid noted that Democrats have tried to pass legislation to close the prison camp and transfer the detainees to the United States to face criminal trials but have been “held up from doing so by Republicans.”
“So I'm glad to get of these five people, send them back to Qatar, and I think the arrangements made there are, as far as I understand, what's been explained to me, adequate,” he said the Taliban militants released over the weekend.
The former detainees must spend at least a year in Qatar, which helped mediate the exchange, under the terms of the deal.
Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee who face a contested primary next week, said he has added language to the pending defense authorization bill that would require an up-or-down vote in Congress to approve the closure of Guantanamo.
The bill also includes a provision barring the administration from transferring detainees to Yemen, he noted.White House and Pentagon officials held a classified briefing for senators on Wednesday night, but it did not satisfy skeptics.