Lawmakers Thursday dealt another blow to President Barack Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, denying a request for extra funds and restricting the transfer and release of detainees.
The House Appropriations subcommittee, tasked with funding the Justice Department and other agencies, threw out a request for 60 million dollars to help the department shutter the prison on the US naval base in southern Cuba.
It approved a 64.4 billion dollar 2010 funding bill for the agencies under its remit, but attached conditions on releasing Guantanamo inmates.
The bill would see the government barred from releasing any of the 240 remaining detainees in the United States or to any other country until the administration has presented a plan to Congress.
The panel’s decision was the latest obstacle to Obama’s efforts to close the prison by January 22, 2010, which have run into opposition at home amid fears the inmates could be released onto US territory.
Other nations have also been reluctant to accept any of the 50 detainees so far cleared for release. An Algerian national has been taken in by France, while an Ethiopian-born British resident was returned to Britain.
Last month, the Senate — led by Democrats in Obama’s own party — overwhelmingly voted to strip 80 million dollars requested by the president to fund the prison’s closure out of a separate supplemental war funding bill.
But congressional Democrats are now reportedly considering compromise legislation that would allow the White House to transfer some Guantanamo prisoners to the United States.
"When senators come to the floor and suggest that these detainees cannot even be brought to the United States for trial and held in a prison while they’re going to trial, that it’s somehow unsafe for America, it defies logic and experience," said Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the upper chamber.
"This idea that we have to keep Guantanamo open because there’s not a prison in America where they can be held simply is not true. Three hundred and forty-seven convicted terrorists being held in America today are living proof that that’s not true," he added in a speech on the Senate floor.
Republicans lashed back at the possibility, presented by Obama, that some Guantanamo detainees could be brought to US high-security "supermax" jails.
"Why in the world would Senate Democrats be entertaining the idea of giving the administration millions of dollars for doing this, especially without having seen a plan?" asked the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell.
"Like most Americans, I am for keeping Guantanamo open. It is safe and securely away from our civilian population," he added, although hinting: "Perhaps I could be persuaded to change my mind if the administration comes up with a plan."