By J. Taylor Rushing - 08/04/09 07:04 PM EDT
After months of dormancy, the issue flared up after multiple media reports over the weekend said an Obama administration panel examining detainee policy is considering recommending transferring some of the most dangerous prisoners to a federally run facility in either Standish, Mich., or Leavenworth, Kan.
Roberts’s comments come as the Senate is scrambling to finish its legislative business before starting the monthlong break. The chamber is busy trying to pass a $2 billion infusion to the overwhelmed cash-for-clunkers program, approve the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and pass a handful of appropriations bills and a bill to promote tourism.
Roberts said he and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are particularly concerned about the “dangerously counterproductive” impact on Fort Leavenworth, where the U.S. military runs an officers college. Roberts said about 2,000 acres of surrounding farmland would have to be bought out to increase security, and that administration officials seem ignorant in their knowledge of the Leavenworth facility and the stress that would be created.
“Fort Leavenworth is the intellectual center of the Army,” Roberts said. “It’s where [an] officer goes through the command and staff college. It’s a university … I want [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates to come down and talk to me so I can ask him, ‘Bob, you’re from Kansas. What on earth are you doing?’ ”
Roberts said he would hold up administration nominations, block Senate business or even filibuster legislation “if it comes to that.”
Democrats continued to defend the administration’s stated plan to close the prison next January. President Barack Obama has said the prison has created an image problem for the U.S.
“It’s a worldwide problem for us,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “But it’s also about bringing these prisoners to justice. Some of our colleagues won’t even let us transfer them so they can be prosecuted.”
Last month, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) tried to push an amendment to a Department of Defense appropriations bill that would have simply barred the administration from transporting any prisoners onto U.S. soil. Democratic leaders successfully blocked the amendment, but Inhofe plans to offer it again.
The efforts by Roberts, Brownback and Inhofe do not appear to be part of any coordinated shutdown effort with Senate GOP leaders — GOP Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, for example, was unaware of Roberts’s threat to block legislative business.
“I did read about Leavenworth over the weekend, so I tried to joke with him [Roberts] at lunch today,” Kyl said on Tuesday. “He wasn’t in much of a joking mood about it.”
The Associated Press first reported on Sunday that a task force set up by the administration to evaluate detainee policy is considering transferring some of the 229 prisoners still being held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, both Democrats, oppose the idea.
The issue of Guantánamo Bay has been somewhat quiet since the Senate voted 90-6 in May to strip from a military supplemental measure funds that would have gone toward the costs of relocating detainees. The measure also would have prohibited the administration from using any past funds for the same purpose.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday took a swipe at the Obama administration’s slowness and “lack of coherence” in formulating plans for the detainees. McCain said he still supports closing the prison once there is a plan and policy in place to handle the detainees.
“They still have not acted on fundamental issues such as the enemy combatant issue, those we can’t release and can’t try, and where the prisoners would be located, whether we use military commissions or federal courts — none of those issues have been resolved yet,” McCain said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another proponent of closing the Guantánamo Bay prison, on Tuesday also said he fears the effort is “losing momentum” as time passes without a plan from the administration.
“You can see the votes on the floor,” Graham said. “There’s a lot of pushback about closing Guantánamo Bay. People feel uneasy about it.”