Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Senate Democrats To Strip Guantánamo Funding from War Supplemental

May 19, 2009 – 2:03 p.m.

The Senate, like the House, is poised to deny President Obama the money he requested this year to prepare for closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin , D-Ill., said Tuesday that Democrats will offer an amendment to a fiscal 2009 war spending bill to strip out the $80 million Obama sought in Guantánamo-related funding.

The Senate was poised to consider the $91.3 billion measure Tuesday. The funding, most of which is for war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be disbursed by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2009. Obama has announced that he intends to close Guantánamo Bay in fiscal 2010, so removal of the funding would not necessarily derail that plan.

However, the war spending bill also contains language to prevent the administration from moving Guantánamo prisoners to the United States this fiscal year and would call for him to submit a plan spelling out the future of the prisoners.

“The feeling was at this point we were defending the unknown,” Durbin said. “We were being asked to defend a plan that isn’t announced.”

Durbin said he expects to include the funding in the fiscal 2010 Defense appropriations bill, but the funding would not come ahead of the plan.

“I think Guantánamo should be closed,” Durbin said. “We have to wait for the president’s direction on what happens to the detainees.”

The House version of the supplemental includes more extensive restrictions on the transfer of detainees. It was not clear whether the Senate language would be altered to match the House language.

Republicans in both chambers have been assailing the administration for its handling of the issue.

John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he supports closing the prisons at Guantánamo but thinks the administration erred in not announcing a comprehensive plan from the start.

“They announced the closure with fanfare and a lot of publicity but no overall comprehensive policy to address the issue,” McCain said. “And now they are paying the price.”

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