The slow trickle of detainee releases and transfers from Guantanamo Bay would come to a halt for the rest of President Barack Obama’s tenure, under a bill passed by the House Thursday.
If it ultimately becomes law (which seems unlikely), it could mean Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to close the military detention facility goes unreached.
Here’s how Minnesota’s lawmakers voted on the proposal.
As with so many bills now, the vote was basically along party lines. 244 people voted for it – of those, all were Republicans except for 12. 174 people voted against it – all but 4 were Democrats.
Minnesota’s lawmakers followed suit, with all eight of our reps voting with their party.
Hundreds of people rounded up from foreign countries during the post-9/11 War on Terror have been sent to the U.S. military prison in Cuba, where they’ve been held as suspects.
Guantanamo Bay has been roundly criticized by human rights groups for treatment of detainees, including holding prisoners for indefinite periods of time with no trial, stories of interrogators using methods “designed to break” the prisoners, and force-feeding detainees who went on a hunger strike (video of which has been described as disturbing).
Minnesota U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who voted against the bill, also called the facility a waste of money, saying it’s using up $445 million taxpayer dollars a year that could be used elsewhere.
But supporters say it’s the best way to ensure the safety of the United States.
Republican Tom Emmer (who voted for the bill) said the Obama administration is being reckless with its release and transfers of inmates, arguing some countries they’re being sent to don’t have the means to keep them from returning to terrorism.
What the bill actually does
The bill doesn’t stop transfers or releases forever – only until January of 2017, or until a new National Defense Authorization Act is passed.
For it to take effect, the Senate (which is controlled by Democrats) would have to pass it as well. And Obama would have to sign it – the White House has promised to veto it if it gets that far however.
Wasn’t Guantanamo supposed to be shut down?
Obama, while running in 2008, promised to close Guantanamo Bay if he won. That obviously hasn’t happened yet, although there’s an argument over whether that’s his fault or Congress’ inaction.
The New Yorker has a great run-down of the attempts to close the prison, dating back more than 10 years – and the pushback (often from the Department of Defense) that so far has made it impossible to get done.
In February of this year Obama put out essentially his final plan to shut down Guantanamo.
It considers three things:
- Figure out who, of those left, is eligible to be transferred.
- Decide which ones should be given military trials.
- And review how much of a threat those who aren’t eligible for the two previous options are.
Some of the prisoners would likely be transferred to facilities in the U.S. as their ultimate fate is determined.
But as Politifact says, some Republican lawmakers immediately announced they would block it, including Pat Roberts from Kansas who put this on Twitter.
Still, of the 91 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay at the time Obama announced the plan, 30 have since been sent elsewhere.
Two of the detainees that were freed this year however returned to fighting, Reuters reported. The number of Guantanamo detainees suspected to have returned to fighting after being released by the Obama administration stands at 11 – that’s compared to 113 of the 532 detainees released under the Bush administration, Reuters said.
That was a concern for the bill’s author, Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, who according to the Huffington Post argued Obama is simply trying to fulfill a campaign promise without considering the safety of Americans.
Guantanamo by the numbers
Nearly 900 detainees have been held at Guantanamo Bay since it opened in Cuba in 2002.
Of those, most have been transferred elsewhere – 147 by the Obama administration, and more than 500 by the George W. Bush presidency.
As of Feb. 23, 2016, there were 91 detainees left at Guantanamo Bay, the White House said. That number has since gone down to 61 detainees, the Close Guantanamo website says.
That came after the Obama administration sent 15 detainees – the largest single transfer ever – to the United Arab Emirates in August, the Washington Post reported.
Human Rights Watch says nine people have died while in custody, six of them believed to be by suicide. And a total of 15 detainees under the age of 18 have been held there.