Holder to Congress: Allow Gitmo detainee transfers

Attorney General Eric Holder is again pressing Congress to grant the White House authority to transfer terror detainees from the controversial military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. 

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Holder railed against GOP-led efforts restricting the White House from transferring detainees out of Guantánamo. 

Congressional actions to block those transfers "weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and strengthening our enemies," Holder said in the letter. 

"If we are to ... advance our foreign policy objectives, the [White House] must have the ability to transfer detainees when doing so serves our national interests," he added. 

Holder's letter comes as Senate Republicans are digging in for a legislative fight on detainee transfers from Cuba, as part of the Pentagon's fiscal 2014 defense spending bill. 

In May, President Obama lifted the moratorium on the transfer of Yemeni detainees being housed at Guantánamo back to their home country. 

Only two detainees have been transferred from Guantánamo since then, with another 84 detainees cleared for transfer.

But Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) are spearheading the GOP push to fold in transfer restrictions to Yemen and elsewhere into the defense authorization legislation, expected to hit the Senate floor next week. 

Grassley, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have also expressed their support for keeping high-value terrorists suspects incarcerated at the U.S. base in Cuba. 

Those efforts have put congressional Republicans on a collision course with Obama, who revamped his efforts to shutter the Guantánamo detention center earlier this year. 

"I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe," the president told reporters back in April. 

"It is expensive. It is inefficient. ... It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts," the president added. "It is a recruitment tool for extremists [and] it needs to be closed," the president added. 

Since then, the White House has opted to move recently captured terrorism suspects, such as captured al Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi, into the federal court system, rather than moving them to Cuba. 

In October, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel named Paul Lewis, a congressional lawyer, as special envoy for closing Guantánamo. 

Lewis joined Clifford Sloan, who was named as the State Department’s Guantánamo envoy in June.

Since its creation in early 2000, the military prison in Guantánamo has housed a number of top-tier terrorist suspects captured by U.S. and allied forces. 

9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other 9/11 co-conspirators remain housed at the facility, awaiting trial before a U.S. military tribunal. 

Military prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins is targeting 2015 for a tentative start date for the trial. However, defense teams for the 9/11 accused have said the pre-trial classification fights will push the trial date back to 2016.