Gitmo limbo: Defense bill won’t let Obama close Guantanamo

Gitmo limbo: Defense bill won’t let Obama close Guantanamo
President Barack Obama made a campaign promise to close the federal prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but the new defense bill will not allow him to transfer terror suspects to the United States. Without this power, closing the prison becomes unlikely.

The news marks a significant setback for President Obama, who has spent nearly six years campaigning to close the prison.

American lawmakers have 10 days to wind up legislative business before the end of session, but despite backing from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) – who chairs the Armed Services Committee – supporters of the provision were not able to push through the authority that would have brought the closure of Guantanamo closer.

"Our language ... (on Guantanamo) ... will not be in," Levin told the Associated Press.

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The House and Senate are expected to vote and overwhelmingly approve the sweeping policy bill in the coming days, sending it to Obama.

In a May version of the defense bill, the Armed Services Committee included a provision that would have permitted the transfer of terror suspects to US soil “for detention, trial, incarceration, subject to stringent security measures and legal protections.”

President Obama has pushed to close the post-9/11 prison since his inauguration in January 2009. He has faced strong resistance from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress who didn’t want the terror suspects housed in the United States. Opponents also warned against returning terror suspects back to their home countries.

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Currently, the prison holds 142 men, including 73 already cleared for release. Last month, the Pentagon released five men – four Yemenis and one Tunisian. Three of the men will go to Georgia, and the remaining two to Slovakia. In a separate release, a Saudi citizen was returned to his homeland after being held the past 12 years at Guantanamo.

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Reuters/Christian Ruettger

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), many of the detainees at Guantanamo were reportedly handed over to US forces by bounty hunters in Pakistan and Afghanistan, after the US distributed flyers in these countries offering substantial monetary awards for turning in ‘suspicious’ people. Others were linked to relatives or acquaintances suspected of criminal activity, and were therefore considered ‘guilty’ by association.

HRW said that the others held at Guantanamo include a man who had been Osama Bin Laden’s media secretary, six men awaiting trials that could result in the death-penalty as alleged conspirators in Al-Qaeda’s September 11 and USS Cole attacks, and an Iraqi man accused of leading Al-Qaeda’s army in Afghanistan. The rest are kept as so-called ‘forever prisoners’, ineligible for release, but for whom there is no evidence to try them.