Democrats Deal Blow to Guantanamo Closure
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by early 2010 hit a snag Tuesday as his Democratic Senate allies moved to deny his 80-million-dollar request to shut the facility.
The decision came after a fierce campaign from Republicans who charged that Obama lacked a plan for dealing with the 240 detainees at the notorious jail, and warned against imprisoning, trying, or freeing any of them on U.S. soil.
"The money was sought prematurely," agreed Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, who told reporters the administration had failed to present a detailed strategy.
The Pentagon said the plan to close the facility, a global symbol of U.S. "war on terrorism" excesses, was on track, while the White House said Obama would unveil a "hefty part" of his plan in a national security speech on Thursday.
"We agree with Congress that, before resources, they should receive a more detailed plan," presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
At the Pentagon, press secretary Geoff Morrell insisted that "everything remains on track" for the United States to shutter the facility by Obama's self-imposed January 22, 2010 deadline.
"I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy," Morrell said, amid the pitched political battle over those held at the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba, many without charges, after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Obama had asked for 80 million dollars to shutter the facility as part of a massive supplemental spending plan to pay for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through October 1 and provide emergency aid to Pakistan.
The House of Representatives did not include the money in its 96.7 billion dollar version of the bill, but the Senate had included in its 93.1 billion dollar version with some restrictions.
Obama's request has run into stiff opposition from Republicans and Democratic uneasy about the potential transfer or release of detainees -- even those cleared of terrorism charges -- onto U.S. soil.
"This is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president," said Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States," Reid added as Democrats readied an amendment setting aside the monies.
"Guantanamo is the perfect place for these terrorists," said Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, savoring a political victory.
"However, if the president ends up sticking with this decision to close it next January, obviously they need a place to be. It ought not to be the United States of America," said the Republican leader.
Feinstein rejected the centerpiece of the Republican argument, saying that there are already terrorists and other dangerous criminals at maximum security U.S. prisons "from which no one has ever escaped."
"God knows we have the facilities that can house them safely and apart from anyone's neighborhood, community, or anything else," she said, dismissing Republican warnings of terrorists walking U.S. streets as "just a lot of bull."
But Feinstein acknowledged the political power of the argument, saying: "It's a problem because it gets people upset."
Obama has set up a review of the detainee's cases, while appealing to U.S. allies to take in some of the prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries.