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McCain bill reignites debate over Guantanamo

A U.S. soldier opens a gate outside Camp VI at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this April 19, 2016 photo.

COREY DICKSTEIN/STARS AND STRIPES

By MEGAN SCULLY | CQ-Roll Call | Published: May 20, 2016

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual Pentagon policy bill reignites a long-simmering debate over the Guantanamo Bay detention facility with a new provision that would allow the Defense Department to plan and design a stateside facility to one day house the detainees.

The text of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill, obtained by CQ Roll Call, would keep existing prohibitions on Guantanamo’s closure, including blocking any funds authorized in the bill to be used for actually constructing a stateside replacement.

But the new provision related specifically to designing and planning for a new or modified prison opens the door ever so slightly to ultimate closure of the much-maligned facility, an elusive goal for President Barack Obama, who has tried to shutter the prison since the outset of his administration.

The Senate is expected to debate the authorization measure next week.

The administration released a Guantanamo closure plan in February at the behest of Congress. But the report, which was months in the making, did not recommend any specific sites — a fact that irritated Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.

The former POW, who inserted the provision in the fiscal 2016 defense policy law demanding the administration’s report, has said he would try to sell the administration’s Guantanamo plan to his reluctant colleagues, if there was a viable alternative to the prison.

But the report delivered to Congress in February provided few details and fell short of his expectations. The administration’s proposal said there are 13 potential sites in the United States to house the detainees, including federal, Defense Department and state correctional facilities, but did not name any of the locations.

At the time, McCain called the administration’s proposal a “vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo.”

“The president has still yet to say how and where he will house both current and future detainees, including those his administration has deemed as too dangerous to release,” the Arizona Republican said in a statement. “Rather than identify specific answers to those difficult questions, the president has essentially passed the buck to the Congress.”

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