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US official: Bill would block effort to close Guantanamo

Sen. Tom Cotton expressed his opposition to closing the facility, saying the detainees could "rot in GITMO."

By: Associated Press | Washington | Published: February 5, 2015 11:14:50 pm
Ellen Sturtz, an activist from the antiwar group CodePink, participates in a silent protest during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, on the detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba. A week ago, the same group drew the ire of Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., when they interrupted a hearing with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and charged the witness table. (Source: AP) Ellen Sturtz, an activist from the antiwar group CodePink, participates in a silent protest during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, on the detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba. (Source: AP)

The Obama administration pushed back Thursday against a bill to place new restrictions on President Barack Obama’s ability to transfer terror suspects out of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said the bill proposed by four powerful Republican senators would effectively ban most transfers from Guantanamo for two years.

“Because this legislation, if enacted, would effectively block progress toward the goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the administration opposes it,” McKeon told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McKeon also said that despite recent reports, none of the five Taliban detainees released in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban since June 2009, have “returned to the battlefield.”  There had been news reports that one tried to re-engage in the fight, but McKeon said all five continue to be monitored in Qatar.

The senators are Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Richard Burr and Lindsey Graham. They have introduced legislation to legally reinstate a ban on Yemeni transfers among other restrictions on Guantanamo transfers during Obama’s remaining two years in office. They cited the recent shooting at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and other attacks linked to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington considers to be the group’s most dangerous branch.

Nearly a dozen protesters, dressed in orange jumpsuits and T-shirts that read, “Shut down GITMO,” attended the hearing. One had a black “Cleared For Release” poster pinned to her back. Two were escorted out after outbursts. Gitmo is a shortened name for the facility.

Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican, expressed his opposition to closing the facility, saying the detainees could “rot in GITMO.”

McCain,  the committee chairman, said that if the Obama administration wants to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, it needs to offer a plan to deal with the dozens of detainees who have been deemed too dangerous for release.

McCain said he wants to see the prison closed but that the administration has not provided what he says is a “responsible” plan to shutter the facility.

He posed several rhetorical questions, including where charges will be brought against detainees who can be tried for their alleged crimes and what is to be done with detainees who could be transferred out but who come from countries like Yemen that are engulfed in turmoil.

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