President Barack Obama is vowing to finally close down the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as he pledged to do when he first ran for office eight years ago. But the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate was quick to reject the president’s plan, calling it vague and dangerous.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Senate would review Obama’s plan, but added, "Since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has been a strong advocate of closing down Guantanamo, agreeing with Obama that the facility is contrary to American values. McCain, who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said his committee would hold hearings on the president’s proposal. But he also criticized the plan.
“What we received today is a vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo, let alone a coherent policy to deal with future terrorist detainees," said McCain. He and other Republican lawmakers faulted the president for not saying where he would house current and future detainees.
Ryan: ‘Against the Law’
On the House side, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin sharply rebuked the plan. “Congress has left no room for confusion," he said. "It is against the law — and it will stay against the law — to transfer terrorist detainees to American soil. We will not jeopardize our national security over a campaign promise.”
FILE - Ellen Sturtz, an activist from the antiwar group CodePink, participates in a silent protest during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington on the detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.
To thwart efforts by the president to close down Guantanamo, Congress has repeatedly passed legislation making any effort to transfer detainees to the United States illegal since 2011.
The president’s plan names 13 possible transfer sites in the United States, including seven federal prisons in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas. But the plan does not recommend any particular site. Lawmakers from those three states have been particularly vocal in opposing any plan to transfer detainees to U.S. soil.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said the location the White House is looking at in his state is within five miles (eight kilometers) of a dozen schools and multiple neighborhoods. He tweeted, “There is no reason to put a target on an American community when the U.S. already has an isolated facility, well-guarded by Marines.”
The president argues that U.S. federal courts have successfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned hundreds of people for crimes related to terrorism, with no incidents of prisoners escaping.
But the Republican-led House and Senate are not likely to consider new legislation to reverse course and allow detainees to be transferred to U.S. soil — which would be a highly charged issue — during an election year.
Obama has not ruled out taking executive action to close down Guantanamo, but this would most likely provoke outrage in Congress.
Democrats: Guantanamo a ‘Blight’
Democratic leaders and rank-and-file members from both chambers came out in strong support of the president’s closure plan.
“The reality is Guantanamo hurts rather than advances our efforts to keep America safe and combat terrorism abroad,“ said House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She called on Congress to thoroughly review the plan.
“I’ve been there — it is a blight on our country," tweeted Democratic Representative Judy Chu of California. "We must remain a nation of laws and justice.”
She said the president is right to close down the controversial prison, but Democrats cannot bring legislation to the floor since they are currently in the minority in both the House and the Senate.