Senate vote sets up Guantánamo detainee fight

The Senate’s vote Tuesday to reject additional restrictions on transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees sets the stage for a major battle between the House and Senate on the issue.

Aides say the fight over Guantánamo detainees is quickly shaping up to be one of the biggest disputes between the House and Senate Armed Services Committees when they conference the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

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The Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment from Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) that would prohibited the transfer of detainees to the United States and made it more difficult to send them to foreign countries. The amendment was defeated 43-55.

The measure would have made the Senate’s bill in line with the House-passed version, which also included a prohibition on transferring Guantánamo detainees to Yemen.

Instead, the two sides will head into conference committee with dueling provisions on Guantánamo and little middle ground for compromise.

The Guantánamo transfer restrictions have been included in the Defense bill for several years, as Congress has blocked the White House’s efforts to close the detention facility.

This year, however, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) loosened the restrictions in his committee’s bill as President Obama said he wanted to make a new push to close Guantánamo.

Levin’s provisions currently in the Senate’s Defense bill would allow detainees to be transferred to U.S. soil for trial, and also ease the restrictions currently in place to transfer them to foreign countries.

In conference committee, the detainee issue will fall along party lines, with most Republicans from both chambers supporting the House’s language and Democrats backing the Senate’s provisions.

Following Tuesday’s vote, both sides made clear they were gearing up for the fight.

“I think the house will hold their ground,” Ayotte told reporters after the vote.

“The house provisions will ultimately prevail,” Chambliss said, adding that he also thought the Yemen restrictions would stay in the conference report.

Not so fast, Levin said Wednesday, calling Tuesday’s vote against the GOP restrictions a significant one.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to get the Senate position in there,” Levin said.