- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2010

He has already missed his own self-imposed deadline, and President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered more setbacks last week when lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol took steps to block him.

On Friday the full House voted 282-131 to prevent Mr. Obama from transferring any of the detainees being held at Guantanamo to the United States, while the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill Thursday stopping Mr. Obama from buying a new prison to house the detainees.

“We can’t stop every terrorist from coming to the United States but we can stop the ones that are coming from Guantanamo,” said Rep. Randy J. Forbes, the Virginia Republican who offered the amendment in the House that prohibits any detainee from being moved to the U.S.

Mr. Obama made closing the prison a key goal of his presidential campaign, and two days after taking office he signed an executive order halting trials by military commission and requiring the prison to be closed “no later than 1 year from the date of this order.”

The administration has said it cannot close the facility until there is a prison in the U.S. that can handle the detainees - and that requires congressional approval to purchase a prison.

The Justice Department has identified a prison in Illinois, known as the Thomson facility, that it wants to acquire and refurbish to handle detainees, who have have to be held under different conditions than regular prisoners.

A White House official said Friday they are still pursuing the process.

“Congress has requested further information from the administration before granting funds to transfer detainees to Thomson, and we will work to provide that information,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have a DOJ appropriations request to acquire Thomson for the purpose of housing federal prisoners there, and that request has not yet been voted on.”

The House and Senate votes came on versions of the annual defense policy bill.

The Senate version still must be voted on by the full Senate, and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said he expects the ban on buying a prison to be re-fought on the Senate floor.

Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat, told reporters the committee adopted its ban by voice vote. The committee’s debate on the defense policy bill was closed to the public.

The House, meanwhile, did not prevent purchase of a prison but did vote to ban the administration from retrofitting a building to make it suitable to house detainees - which amounts to a prohibition.

But in adopting Republicans’ amendment to prevent transfers, the House went a step further. All but one Republican supported the transfer ban, while Democrats were split: 114 voted for it, and 130 voted against it.

“There’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans when it comes to fighting terrorism,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who urged his colleagues to accept Republicans’ amendment.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told a Senate committee last month that the administration has identified 48 detainees who will need to be held indefinitely, in addition to those whom the government wants to put on trial in regular courts or military commissions. He said the administration needs Congress to pass funding to acquire the Thomson prison before the detainees can be moved from Guantanamo Bay.

Story Continues →