GOP chairman mulls Gitmo, ISIS measures in defense bill

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The House Armed Services Committee chairman is mulling measures on Guantánamo Bay and a strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in an upcoming defense policy bill.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) says Congress must act because President Obama didn’t provide lawmakers with a strategy for ISIS and his plan for closing the prison at Gitmo fell flat.

“I don’t know what specific actions will be on either front, but they are both issues that are not going to go away,” Thornberry told reporters Thursday.

“ISIS is not going away. Hopefully we will have more people we will capture and are able to interrogate and gather intelligence from. We haven’t had many in the past. Hopefully we’ll have more in the future,” he continued.

“And so the detention plan moving ahead is also not going to go away. So we’re going to continue to pursue exactly in what ways in this year’s bill. I can’t tell how.”

Thornberry raised the possibility of tying the measure to spending but said there are a “variety of options” for lawmakers.

“Can you make the president submit a plan if he just refuses to?” he said. “I don’t know. In the last seven, eight months in an administration? As I say, I think if nothing else it shows that there probably isn’t a plan. That’s why you brainstorm and you think about the options and see what makes sense under the circumstances.”

Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) called for the Obama administration to submit to Congress by February a strategy to fight violent extremism in the Middle East.

The administration has yet to submit a plan. A few days before the deadline, the Pentagon said it was working on it and would have a report to Congress in the “near term.”

Thornberry blasted the administration for failing to meet the deadline.

“The administration failed to even give us a token effort on the requirement in the law that they provide a strategy against ISIS,” he said.

A plan would help, he added, as ISIS spreads outside Iraq and Syria.

“As ISIS get squeezed a little bit in Iraq and Syria, we see them squirting out more to Libya,” Thornberry said. “We see them growing in Afghanistan, as well as other places. And so that was part of the reason we felt you need a strategy to deal with this whole threat, not just what’s happening in this country or that country.”

The 2016 NDAA also required Obama to submit a plan to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, which he did last week. But Republican lawmakers quickly dismissed the proposal.

Thornberry reiterated his stance that the plan didn’t meet the law’s requirements, saying it lacked answers to questions, including what to do with any future detainees.

The plan says decisions on future detainees will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Thornberry also addressed growing concerns among lawmakers that Obama will turn over the entire Guantánamo naval base to Cuba during his trip there later this month.

Thornberry sent letters this week to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice asking them to put in writing that the administration will not give the base back to Cuba.

He acknowledged the concern is mostly based on rumor, but said lawmakers are still worried.

“There’s a variety of rumors and things going around, and so I’ve tried to ask for a clearer statement on that,” Thornberry said. “I admit a lot of this is rumor, but there’s concern about the president’s trip to Cuba. I have a number of members coming up to me every time we come to vote and want to talk to me about this.”

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