Funds to Close Guantánamo Denied
WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to cut from a war spending bill the $80 million requested by President Obama to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to bar the transfer of detainees to the United States and its territories.
The vote, which complicates Mr. Obama’s efforts to shutter the prison by his deadline of Jan. 22, 2010, was 90 to 6. Republicans voted unanimously in favor of cutting the money.
“The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota. “The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their back yard, either.”
The six Democrats who voted against the measure include some of their party’s most prominent voices on military affairs and criminal justice issues. Among them were Senators Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The vote was on an amendment to a $91.3 billion military spending bill that will finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some other national security programs, including preparations for pandemic flu, through Sept. 30.
The abrupt decision by Senate Democratic leaders to strip out the money for closing the Guantánamo detention center amounted to a strong rebuke of the Obama White House, which lawmakers in both parties have criticized for not providing a more detailed plan for what will be done with the 240 detainees currently held in the prison.
Senate Democrats had initially hoped to preserve the financing for closing the prison. House Democrats, however, had already stripped the money from their version of the military spending bill, saying they could not authorize funds without first reviewing Mr. Obama’s plans for the prisoners.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to outline some of those plans in a speech on Thursday in Washington.
Robert S. Mueller 3d, the director of the F.B.I., told a House panel on Wednesday that he is concerned that Guantánamo detainees could foment terrorism if they are sent to the United States. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the United States could continue to hold some detainees at the base indefinitely without charges.
Even so, Mr. Obama has faced growing demands in recent days, from both parties but particularly from Republicans, to spell out in detail how he plans to close the Guantánamo detention center and to provide assurances that detainees would not end up on American soil, not even in maximum security prisons.
The move by Senate Democrats to bar, for now, any transfer of detainees to the United States, raised the possibility that Mr. Obama’s order to close the camp by Jan. 22, 2010, may have to be changed or delayed.
“Guantánamo makes us less safe,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on Tuesday at a news conference where he laid out the party’s rationale for its decision. “However, this is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.”
Senate Democrats said they still backed Mr. Obama’s decision to close the prison. But lawmakers have not exactly been eager to accept detainees in their home states. When the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., offered to put the terrorism suspects in its empty jail, Montana’s senators, both Democrats, and its representative, a Republican, quickly voiced opposition.
Administration officials have indicated that if the Guantánamo camp closes as scheduled more than 100 prisoners may need to be moved to the United States, including 50 to 100 who have been described as too dangerous to release.
Of the 240 detainees, 30 have been cleared for release. Some are likely to be transferred to foreign countries, though other governments have been reluctant to take them. Britain and France have each accepted one former detainee. And while as many as 80 of the detainees will be prosecuted, it remains unclear what will happen to those who are convicted and sentenced to prison.
At the White House on Tuesday, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp, and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would start to be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama will present a “hefty part” of his plan.
At the Pentagon, a spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Tuesday that he believed that the administration remained on track to meet the deadline for closing the prison. “I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy,” Mr. Morrell said.
As the administration has struggled with the issue, it has come under assault from the right and the left.
Conservatives have sought to portray the president as weak on national security. Liberals, including some human rights advocates, have criticized several of Mr. Obama’s decisions, including his plan to revive the military commissions created by the Bush administration to prosecute terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo.
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