Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fate of Guantánamo Detainees Weighs Heavily on Spending Bills

June 4, 2009 – 2:02 p.m.

House appropriators on Thursday imposed restrictions on the release or transfer of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as their fate continued to complicate efforts to pass a separate war funding bill.

The House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department, among other agencies, approved its $64.4 billion fiscal 2010 spending measure by voice vote after attaching the Gitmo restrictions.

The panel’s draft bill does not contain $60 million that President Obama requested for the Justice Department as part of his effort to close the detention facility by January after dispersing the Guantánamo prisoners.

Subcommittee Chairman Alan B. Mollohan , D-W.Va., said the bill would prohibit the release of detainees inside the United States and would bar transfer of Guantánamo prisoners here or to other countries before the administration has presented Congress with a plan.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, blasted the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. , for not briefing Congress about individual detainees. He also said that if detainees are to be tried inside the United States, such trials should occur “on a military base in a very, very rural area.”

Meanwhile, House-Senate negotiators called off a meeting on the war funding bill, which has even tougher restrictions on administration efforts to move the Guantánamo detainees. That issue is one of several that has stalled final action on the bill.

Lawmakers from both parties are fearful that dozens of detainees will be sent to prisons in the United States, where they might seek to foment terrorism.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., declined to comment on the substance of the war funding bill negotiations, including whether lawmakers would bar the administration from bringing Guantánamo detainees to the United States for trials.

“We’re going to come up with a supplemental conference report in the next few days,” Reid said.

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