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House votes to block Guantanamo transfers, even to other countries

By KAROUN DEMIRJIAN | The Washington Post | Published: June 16, 2016

WASHINGTON — The House took aim at President Barack Obama's efforts to winnow the population of detainees at Guantanamo on Wednesday, approving a measure that would prohibit him from releasing any of the remaining prisoners at the prison camp.

The measure goes beyond what Republicans have routinely sought to keep the administration from moving Guantanamo detainees to the United States.

Instead, the proposal would prevent the Obama administration from using any funds to release Guantanamo detainees to any destination, even a third-party country — effectively freezing the detainee population at current levels.

It is unclear if the measure could earn the Senate's support. The White House has already recommended that Obama veto the defense policy bill over a variety of concerns, including how it allocates war funds and its restrictions on planning for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. facilities.

Obama has been pressing Congress to help him close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay since he came to the White House, and a major part of that effort has been focused on transferring detainees to third-party countries.

Just under 700 detainees have been released since the facility opened in 2002; as of earlier this month, there were 80 detainees at the facility, 28 of whom were slated for transfers the administration hopes to complete this summer.

But there have been concerns about recidivism with detainees released to other countries. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Pentagon officials believe at least 12 former detainees released during the Bush administration had launched attacks against the U.S. and its allies, killing at least six Americans.

"This president has shown that he is willing to transfer them to other places where the risk of them escaping back to the battlefield is very high," Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who sponsored the language, said Wednesday. "At this time, I believe we can't risk that."

The House approved the amendment by voice vote, despite the protestations of Democrats.

"That has to be unconstitutional," Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said. "What it says is, even if you find that an individual is innocent, even if you factually find out he's guilty of no terrorism, he didn't fight against us, he's not a prisoner of war, he's guilty of nothing — he must stay in jail forever."

Hudson, a second-term congressman, was also one of the forces behind the effort to suspend Syrian and Iraqi refugee repatriation to the United States in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, until a trio of administration officials could verify refugees slated for admission to the U.S. wouldn't pose a threat.

That effort was ultimately unsuccessful. But Hudson's warnings about the dangers posed by releasing Guantanamo detainees was even more dire on Wednesday.

"The bottom line here is the folks that are left at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst," Hudson argued. "These are some of the most violent, dangerous criminals in the world."

Hudson also tied his Guantanamo measure to the recent mass shooting that killed 49 in Orlando.

"The war on terror is an ongoing battle against evil and we must remain vigilant," Hudson said. "We must take every action necessary to block the president's plan to close Guantanamo."

The rising sun silhouettes an out-of-use guard tower, fence and concertina wire at Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in April 2016.
COREY DICKSTEIN/STARS AND STRIPES

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