In an abrupt about-face on prisoners-of-war policy, Sen. John McCain took aim earlier this week at White House efforts to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. A day later, President Barack Obama fired back.
A pair of Pentagon statements issued late Wednesday announced the transfer of five prisoners from Guantánamo, four of whom were sent to Oman, and the fifth to Estonia. They were released on the heels of legislation that McCain (R-Ariz.) and three other Republican senators introduced on Tuesday that would heavily restrict the U.S. from moving detainees to foreign countries.
There are now 122 prisoners at Guantánamo, down from a peak of about 680.
By Thursday, McCain ratcheted up the rhetoric, invoking last week’s Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in a statement blasting the administration on the new Guantánamo transfers. Flanked by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), McCain said the detainees — all of whom are Yemeni — run the risk of being recruited for jihad.
The lawmakers raised concerns that the four men released to Oman, which borders Yemen, could easily slip into their home nation — which is also the base for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP this week claimed responsibility for the deadly shootings of Charlie Hebdo journalists.
The lawmakers rapped Obama for “providing virtually no details to the American people regarding the risk the detainees present to our country and our allies, as well as the detainees’ affiliations with terrorist groups and the conditions of their transfer,” the statement said.
Obama has been trying to close the prison since the start of his presidency, and in recent weeks has accelerated detainee transfers. And for years, McCain — a former prisoner of war who now chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee — sided with the president.
But on Tuesday, McCain changed course, alleging the White House was not consulting with Congress on plans to shutter the controversial site.
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