Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senate Strips Funds to Close Guantánamo Detention Center

May 20, 2009 – 12:54 p.m.
By Josh Rogin, CQ Staff

The Senate voted Wednesday to strip funding to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from a supplemental spending bill and bar funding for the transfer of prisoners to the United States.

The 90-6 vote on a Democratic amendment to the bill (HR 2346) takes $80 million from the legislation, but does not end the debate over how to handle the prison or its inmates.

The amendment by Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye , D-Hawaii, represented an attempt by Democratic leaders to defuse Republican attacks over the possibility of detainees entering the United States from the prison at the U.S. Navy base.

But even as he worked to remove the funding from the bill, Inouye maintained that the prison must be closed.

“This amendment is not a referendum on closing Guantánamo,” he said. “Let me be very clear: we need to close the Guantánamo prison.”

Republicans have offered several amendments aimed at keeping discussion over the Guantánamo detainees and their treatment while in U.S. custody at the fore of the debate over the bill to fund war operations through the end of fiscal 2009.

An amendment by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., would require the Obama administration to give Congress a threat assessment of each of the prisoners now held at Guantánamo and justify any detainee transfers that might come ahead of the assessments. About 240 detainees remain in the prison.

Sam Brownback , R-Kan., offered an amendment expressing the sense of the Senate that state and local governments should be consulted before the administration moves to place any Guantánamo detainees within their jurisdictions.

And John Cornyn , R-Texas, introduced a “sense of the Senate” amendment saying there should be no criminal prosecutions or sanctions for any officials who wrote legal opinions regarding interrogation techniques, any interrogators who relied on those opinions, or any member of Congress briefed on the techniques.

“Accusations, investigations and so-called truth commissions are a waste of our time, resources and taxpayer money,” Cornyn said.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin , D-Ill., opposed the Cornyn amendment in a floor speech.

“I don’t know where these investigations and the Department of Justice or the intelligence will lead, but if we are truly sworn to uphold the constitution and the laws of our land, we should allow them to run their course,” he said.

More Amendments to Come

Senators planned to debate several other amendments before moving toward an expected Thursday vote to limit debate on the bill.

Jim DeMint , R-S.C., was to propose stripping $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund, an aide said. The House supplemental bill includes no such funding.

Durbin urged rejection of DeMint’s amendment but said he was not sure Democrats had the votes to defeat it.

“I support the IMF provision because I think the president understands when he met with world leaders that the IMF is going to be a critical tool in providing stability to many countries around the world struggling with this recession,” Durbin said.

Lindsey Graham , R-S.C., said he will join Joseph I. Lieberman , I-Conn., to offer an amendment to bar the release of photographs allegedly portraying prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel. Obama has announced that he will fight the effort to release the photos in the courts.

John McCain , R-Ariz., said he will offer an amendment to include about $40 million in requested funds for aid to the country of Georgia. The amendment would include offsets for the money, he said.

President Obama is expected to call for quick passage of the bill during a speech Thursday regarding his plans for Guantánamo.

The House passed its $96.7 billion version May 14.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this story.

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