Senate Defense Spending Bill Reflects Growing Consensus to Close Guantanamo
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed the release of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by the Senate Armed Services Committee, a bill that reflects a growing bipartisan consensus to shutter the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay by providing the president with greater flexibility to transfer detainees.
“Senate Armed Services Committee should be commended for tackling the Guantanamo problem head on and crafting a bill that reflects the growing support for closing Guantanamo. It’s unconscionable that detainees who have long been cleared for release by the intelligence and defense agencies have been stuck because of political gamesmanship, a problem this bill tries to remedy,” said Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn. “Those who committed heinous crimes should be tried and convicted. Those who have been cleared for release should be sent home or to a third country immediately.”
The Senate defense spending bill provides the Secretary of Defense greater latitude to determine who may be sent home or to third countries by determining that the transfers are in the national security interest and that steps have been taken to substantially mitigate any risks associated with the transfer. The bill also reduces obstacles to transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States for criminal prosecution or continued detention. Since 9/11, U.S. federal courts have convicted nearly 500 terrorism suspects. None of those has ever escaped from federal prison and no federal detention facility has ever been sabotaged. Osburn notes that any comprehensive plan to close Guantanamo should ensure that convicts at Guantanamo will remain incarcerated in secure U.S. prisons.
“Federal courts are more muscular and agile than military commissions. The federal courts have more criminal laws to enforce than the military commissions at Guantanamo. Federal courts also have more precedent upon which to rely to ensure smooth adjudication, unlike the circus at Guantanamo,” observed Osburn.
The Senate Armed Services Committee released its defense bill amidst growing bipartisan efforts to find solutions to closing the facility. Senators McCain and Feinstein joined Chief of Staff Denis McDonough two weeks ago at Guantanamo and pledged support for closing the prison. While the House of Representatives recently voted against an amendment that would have called for a comprehensive plan to close Guantanamo, it was the first time the House had debated such an amendment.
Last week, the Obama Administration announced the appointment of Clifford Sloan to be Special Envoy for Closing Guantanamo at the State Department. The administration is expected to announce the appointment of his counterpart at the Pentagon soon. Human Rights First notes that President Obama should not wait for legislation to act now in transferring detainees cleared for release. Current law, as Senator Levin recently noted in a letter to the President, provides the Secretary of Defense authority to issue a national security waiver to the most onerous certification requirements, easing the path to transfer.
“Guantanamo has been stuck for too long, and justice should be delayed no further. The American people deserve better. The president should exercise his full authority to shutter the facility and close this shameful chapter in our nation’s history,” said Osburn.