Republicans reject House Democrats’ latest plan to close Guantanamo Bay
A Democrat-led attempt in the House of Representatives to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been ridiculed by Republicans who have opposed the plan.
The Guantanamo Bay prison camp is a US territory in Cuba that came into existence in January 2002 under President George W. Bush in the early days of the so-called “war on terror”.
A thousand Marines from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, were hurled across the Gulf of Mexico to quickly set up the facility as a detention center for suspected terrorists awaiting trial in the United States or before a military tribunal.
Guantanamo Bay has been controversial since its inception in 2002, as has the Iraq war, which was started under the false pretense of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, and the Afghanistan war, in which the United States attempted to uproot the Taliban terrorist, and failed organization that has since taken over the nation.
Now House Democrats are making another largely symbolic push to shut down the facility that houses some of the most dangerous terrorists captured abroad. After more than 20 years of existence, the facility only accommodates 39 prisoners.
A provision in the Democrats’ draft bill to fund Defense Department through fiscal year 2023, passed by the Democrat-held House Appropriations Committee, would shut down the detention center for good.
The provision reads simply: “None of the funds provided by this Act or otherwise provided shall be used after 30 April 2007.
No money for Guantanamo
House Speaker Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) defended the measure in a statement The hill.
Currently, the United States spends about $540 million in taxpayer dollars annually on the plant, McCollum said, adding it would be better spent elsewhere.
“I’m going to work hard on the conference committee,” McCollum said. “It’s not a good use of taxpayers’ money, and if we need more money for defense, it should go to things that will improve our national security.”
in one Tweet from July 5thRep. Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.) reiterated the feeling that Guantanamo Bay does not contribute to national security.
“Guantanamo Bay does not protect our nation,” Maloney wrote. “We have to close it down for good at this year’s [military spending bill].”
However, the bill does not make clear what would happen to these detainees, most of whom are senior terrorist leaders – presumably meaning they would be transported to the United States for detention.
Keeping these inmates out of the United States has long been a priority for Republicans.
In the past two years, separate bills have been brought in by Reps Jeff Duncan (RS.C.), Pat Fallon (R-Texas), Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) in addition to an offer from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would block the federal government from using congressional funds to fund the rendition of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
“Terrorists should never be allowed to set foot on American soil,” Boebert said after unveiling one of the latest variations on this type of bill.
“Democrats are calling for the release of terrorists from Guantanamo,” she continued. “We should keep these terrorists right where they belong: behind bars and out of America. While Biden was Vice President, the Obama regime released 196 terrorists from Guantanamo. Not surprisingly, many of these individuals have returned to terrorism, killing American soldiers and civilians.”
“After Biden’s catastrophic failure in Afghanistan, I think the country is fed up with its anti-terrorist strategy,” she added.
Since Democrats hold 50 Senate seats, at least 10 Republicans would need to sign the regulation for it to pass as part of the larger package, assuming all 50 Democrats support the measure.
According to members of both parties, this is unlikely.
Retired Major General wants Gitmo shut down
“[Democrats] have such slim majorities at the moment,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) told The Hill. “It’s difficult for them to do anything … so, as a practical matter, doing something so controversial just isn’t going to happen.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, seemed to agree, telling reporters, “I’m sure it’s not going to happen.”
“No sane person will support that,” Inhofe added. “It’s an absolutely vital institution.”
Even Democrats who support the measure have admitted it’s a long way off.
“We should have closed it years ago,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “I agree with President Bush on that. I agreed with President Obama. I would vote for anything to close Guantanamo Bay. [But] You must have the votes. And we’ve tried before, and they didn’t make it.”
Some military leaders have expressed sentiments similar to Democrats, saying that the facility’s hasty construction and its usual practices in violation of the Geneva Conventions were better for policymakers than for the military personnel who had to build and maintain the facility.
“The speed of construction of Guantanamo and the urgency to obtain information have had dire consequences,” retired Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who oversaw construction of the facility, told Congress in his December 2021 testimony on the issue.
“The legal ambiguities that make Guantanamo an attractive choice for some policymakers pose extraordinary challenges for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who must implement those policies,” Lehnert said. “The subsequent decision to subject detainees to so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and to avoid using the Geneva Conventions unless it suited us cost us international support and aided our enemies.”
The closure of Gitmo, long promised by Democrats
Democrats have long wanted to close the prison for good.
In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama made the closure of Guantánamo Bay a key issue on his foreign policy agenda, also pledging to bring troops home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But eight years later, Obama left office, Guantánamo Bay was still open, and several military conflicts were still ongoing.
During his 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden made the same promise — and had little more success than Obama in fulfilling that promise.
In August 2021, 75 House Democrats wrote a letter to Biden expressing frustration at the lack of progress closing the facility and encouraging Biden to fulfill promises he made during the campaign.
“We strongly support your stated goal of closing the prison,” the Democratic coalition wrote.
“We share your belief that after nearly two decades and enormous costs, it is time to close the prison and seek quick solutions to the cases of the remaining inmates,” the letter continued. “We ask that while you take the necessary steps to permanently close the prison, that you act immediately to further reduce its population, ensure that the remaining inmates are treated humanely, and ensure transparency of the procedures of the military commission in of the Guantanamo detention facility.”
In the letter, Democrats condemned the facility as a “fundamental betrayal of our values and commitment as a country to the rule of law.”
However, without Senate support, Congress will not be able to put a definitive end to the facility, and comments from GOP members suggest this controversial provision is likely to be removed from the bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee.