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20 Nov, 2013 12:48

US senate paralyzed over Gitmo

US senate paralyzed over Gitmo

The US Senate is seemingly deadlocked when dealing with the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, voting down dueling measures which would have either loosened or tightened restrictions on transferring detainees.

On Tuesday the Senate got to work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which outlines the budget and expenditures for the Pentagon. Cyber security, sexual assault in the armed forces and military pay were all on the agenda.

The issue of what to do about the Guantanamo Bay detention facility at the US naval facility in Cuba revealed the long-standing divide within the Senate shows no signs of abating.

The first amendment to the NDAA would have facilitated the Obama administration's ability to detain and try suspects in the United States or release them to foreign countries.  

The bipartisan measure, proposed by Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.), fell short of the 60-vote threshold needed to pass. The vote was 52-46.

McCain read a letter from 38 former US military leaders voicing their support for the bill. The letter characterized Guantanamo as a "symbol of torture" and a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda.

"I would hope this could be broadly supported," Levin said before the vote.

Another amendment proposed by Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) earlier that day would have conversely restored provisions prohibiting the transfer of detainees to the United States and made it more difficult to send them abroad.

“Why would we want the most dangerous terrorists in the world to come to America when we have one of the most secure detention facilities in Guantanamo?” Ayotte said ahead of the vote. “We don’t even know where they’ll be brought.”

The interior of an unoccupied communal cellblock is seen at Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay (Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)

Ayotte added that senators were failing to look at the long-term consequences of shuttering Guantanamo, saying that if the facility were to be closed, the US would not have a suitable place to carry out prolonged interrogation of high-ranking Al-Qaeda operatives like Ayman Zawahiri.

That measure was ultimately defeated 43-55, although it gathered some bipartisan support, with Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) breaking party ranks to vote alongside Republicans.

The battle will continue in the House of Representatives, however, as the restrictions proposed by the Republican senators were also proposed to the House’s version of the NDAA.  

Intransigence on the Senate floor underscores President Obama’s failure to close the controversial facility for terror suspects nearly five years after he signed an executive order to shutter the camp.

Of the 164 terrorism suspects being held at the prison at an estimated cost of $454 million annually, or about $2.75 million per person, 84 have already been cleared for transfer.

Nearly 12 years after the camp was created, subsequent congressional restrictions have all but halted detainee transfers, leaving many of the men in legal limbo.

Lawmakers opposed to transferring the detainees to US soil have chosen to present all the detainees as grave threats to national security.

"The 164 that are remaining are the meanest, nastiest terrorists in the world, frankly,"
said Chambliss. "They're the ones nobody's going to want. So if nobody else wants them, why should we allow them to come to the United States?"

But while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States, is among the 164 being held at the camp, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein noted other Al-Qaeda members are being held at a maximum security prison in Colorado for one-thirty-fifth the cost.

In an era of tight budgets, she said, "how can we justify spending approximately $2.8 million per Guantanamo detainee?"