By Jeremy Herb - 05/23/13 07:36 PM EDT
The senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said President Obama's national security speech will be "viewed by terrorists as a victory."
Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (Ga.) made the remarks in a statement released moments after Obama's speech. He focused his criticism on Obama's plans to move toward closing the Guantanamo Bay detainee camp.
Earlier this month, Chambliss — who is not seeking reelection — played a round of golf with Obama.
Pressure has been building on Obama to take steps to close Guantanamo as the 186 prisoners left at the camp have begun a hunger strike. Obama promised to close Guantánamo in his first days of office, but his efforts failed on Capitol Hill and the president's efforts have faded.
On Thursday, Obama laid out a plan to move toward closing the prison by lifting a ban on sending cleared Guantánamo detainees from Yemen back to that country.
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Fifty-six of the 166 detainees at the prison are from Yemen and have been cleared for release. Obama suspended transfers to Yemen during his first-term, and Congress has placed additional restrictions that require the administration only to transfer detainees after determining it is not a national security risk to do so.
Even before Obama finished his speech, Republicans had begun criticizing the plan.
“The president may be solving a political problem by these transfers in his own mind, but he’s creating a national security problem for our soldiers and our diplomats,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamShutdown risk grows over Flint Senate poised to override Obama veto Overnight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters.
Republicans on Thursday cautioned that sending detainees to Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operates, still carries too great of a security risk, and doing so could allow the detainees to take up arms against the U.S.
A study from the House Armed Services Committee last year found that about 25 percent of the detainees who were released from Guantánamo under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have re-entered the fight.
“I’m very concerned about the transfer of people back to Yemen,” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria Kerry fires back at McCain: I'm not 'delusional' House to vote on ObamaCare mandate exemption Tuesday MORE (R-Ariz.), who supports closing Guantánamo. “We don’t want them to go back into the fight. The fact is about 20 percent of them went back into the fight.”
Many Democrats have urged Obama to re-start the process for releasing cleared detainees at Gitmo. They say that doing so will demonstrate the president’s commitment to closing the prison and help generate momentum to win over skeptical lawmakers that the prison should ultimately be shuttered.
But many Republicans have resisted those calls, saying the prison is a key tool to detain terrorists who cannot face a trial.
Some lawmakers have complained that the Obama administration detention policy makes it easier for them to kill terrorists abroad than capture them.
“On Guantánamo, it is shameful that they would take an asset that is extremely valuable and just because a certain element of the liberal constituency out there is opposed to it, to not use this asset,” said Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeShutdown risk grows over Flint Dem slams House waterways bill over splash parks provision Democrats blast GOP for ‘sabotaging’ House waterways bill MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Graham said he would be open to conversations about closing Guantánamo if the president was willing to create a system where detainees could be tried through a military commission system in the U.S.
“The president seems to be going backward when it comes to using law of war detention,” Graham said. “I would be willing to look at any plan he can come up with to move the facility to a new location. My red lines are it has to be a law of war regime around the new detention system,” he said, which referred to a system where some detainees would be sent to a military commission and some to a federal court.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that to close Guantánamo, he wants to know “what the president intends to do with those terrorist detainees who are too dangerous to release but cannot be tried; how he will ensure terrorists transferred overseas do not return to the fight, and what he will do with terrorists we will capture in the future.”