The Cable

Senate Bans Transfer of Detainees Held at Guantanamo Bay

The Senate just banned the transfer of prisoner from Guantanamo Bay.


Since his second day in office, President Barack Obama has vowed to close the terror detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before he leaves the White House. The Senate just put up yet another roadblock to his plan.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the annual defense authorization bill (NDAA) by a vote of 91 to 3; the bill passed the House last week by a final tally of 370 to 58. It now heads to the president’s desk. Obama is expected to sign it, even though the bill prohibits transferring any Guantanamo detainees to American soil or to Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president would continue efforts to close Gitmo despite the Senate’s ban. There are still over 100 detainees at the facility.

Closing Guantanamo “is a national security priority,” Earnest said. He later added that much in the overall bill is necessary to run and protect the United States, “and so that’s why I would expect that you would see the president sign the NDAA when it comes to his desk.”

A day earlier, Earnest floated the possibility that Obama could close the base with an executive order, bypassing Congress altogether. He said, “I certainly wouldn’t take off the table the ability of the president to use whatever authority is available to him to try to move closer to accomplishing this goal. I don’t say that with any specific action in mind. I just say it to illustrate to you the determination that the president feels to try to get this done.”

Republicans are preparing for this possibility. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called an executive order to close Guantanamo “likely.”

Short of an executive order, the Pentagon could issue recommendations for closing the sprawling detention facility that at one time held as many as 677 combatants. Over the years, and as recently as August, the Defense Department notified lawmakers that it was conducting “site surveys” at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas and the Naval brig in Charleston, S.C. as possible locations where detainees would be transferred. Officials also have raised the possibility of sending the detainees to the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo., where Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski are being held.

Republicans have long opposed any efforts to move Guantanamo detainees to American soil. This continued this week.

“Why in the world you would bring these enemy combatants to domestic soil is mind boggling,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “This is nothing short of gambling national security to keep a campaign promise.”

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

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