GOP lawmaker decries potential Gitmo transfers to US

GOP lawmaker decries potential Gitmo transfers to US
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Rep. Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiLawmakers pressed to fix tax law glitch Some in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor A tax reform error is harming restaurants and costing jobs MORE (R-Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Ash Carter expressing "grave concern" over Pentagon visits to potential sites in the U.S. where Guantanamo detainees may be housed.  

"I write with grave concerns following the recent news that your teams are conducting site visits and examining the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to facilities within the continental United States," she wrote Carter in the Sept. 1 letter, obtained by The Hill. 

"I continue to believe that the safest and most secure place for detainees remains the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," she said. 

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Walorski, who succeeded in passing an amendment to the House's 2016 defense policy bill to enact more restrictions on transfers from the Cuban facility, said she is particularly troubled by the visits occurring despite the lack of an overarching detainee policy from the administration. 

"Given the swift and steady rise of the Islamic State, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and the instability throughout the Middle East fueled by Iranian influence, there are no signs that our Nation will know a world free of conflict in the near future," she wrote. 

"Furthermore, the likelihood of taking future enemy combatants from the battlefield is high, as is the possibility of current detainees returning to areas of conflict if released. Within the context of this environment, it is critical to discuss the long term plans for housing current and future detainees and how the legal status of detainees would change if brought into the United States," she said. 

She added the visits "without a comprehensive strategy appears to be based on assisting the President achieve political goals rather than the best interests of our national security." 

The letter comes as the Pentagon is conducting visits to military and federal prisons throughout the U.S., as part of an assessment on potential sites to house detainees ineligible for transfer. 

Currently, there are 116 detainees at the facility. Fifty-two have been approved for transfer to nations that meet certain requirements and are willing and able to take them in and provide the proper monitoring or security arrangements for those released. 

However, 64 are currently ineligible for transfer and would need to be brought to the U.S. in order to close the Guantanamo facility. 

So far, a small Pentagon team has visited a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and plans to visit the consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston on Wednesday and Thursday. 

The Pentagon is also planning more visits at a later date. The assessments are part of an Obama administration effort to draft a plan on how it would close the facility. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has inserted a provision in the Senate's 2016 defense policy bill that would lift a ban on bringing detainees to the U.S. if the administration submits a plan that is approved by Congress. 

However, it's not yet clear whether that provision will become law — the Senate bill first needs to be meshed with the House's version. The final version would then need to be passed into law by both chambers and signed by the president, who has already threatened to veto the bill. 

Walorski has also urged lawmakers who are part of the conferencing process to keep her provisions in the final bill. 

Nonetheless, the Pentagon has already begun drafting that plan in case it does become law. 

Walorski said in her letter that the administration should "expect to receive strong opposition from those in the Congress who support prioritizing the security of Americans over the interests of terrorists and rogue nations."

"Again, I strongly believe that housing detainees in Guantanamo Bay remains the best option for our nation and I will do everything in my power to prevent the premature transfer or release of any detainees housed there," she said.