- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Senate Democrats struggled Monday to shore up support for President Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for terrorism suspects, which has emerged as a chief sticking point for a $91 billion spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressional leaders hope to get final approval for the war-spending bill and for legislation that would provide new consumer protections in credit card deals, and put finishing touches on an energy bill before adjourning Friday for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

President Obama is scheduled to give a speech Thursday about the future of Guantanamo in a bid to shore up support for closing a facility that for some has become a symbol of excesses in former President George W. Bush’s war on terror.

“The bottom line here is that anyone who continues to pose a threat to the United States will not be set free,” Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, told reporters on a conference call Monday.

Senate Democratic leaders organized the call to counter rising criticism that Mr. Obama is rushing to meet a self-imposed January deadline to shutter the detention center at a U.S. Navy base on Cuba without a plan for what to do with the approximately 240 terror suspects held on the island.

A growing chorus of Senate Democrats - including Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska - have joined Republicans in opposing the transfer of terrorist detainees to the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was working with members of his caucus to “understand their views, and any concerns, on the Guantanamo issue,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

He said Mr. Reid would be prepared for amendments related to Guantanamo Bay when the supplemental spending bill reaches the Senate floor, which is expected to be Wednesday.

The House already has passed its $97 billion version of the spending bill, which did not include any funds to close Guantanamo. The House bill passed on a 368-60 vote, with the bulk of the “no” votes coming from anti-war Democrats.

Senate Republicans are expected to offer amendments to strike the $81 million in the bill to shut down the detention camp and to prohibit transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States.

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved the war-spending bill that funds military and diplomatic missions in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

The bill included about $50 million for the Defense Department to close Guantanamo, but would require the administration to present a plan for relocating the prisoners before it can cash the check. Another $30 million would go to the Justice Department to plan the relocation of the prisoners.

The House and Senate bills will have to be reconciled and the final version approved by both chambers by Friday to get the legislation to Mr. Obama’s desk before the Memorial Day break.

Ken Gude, an international human rights researcher at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, accused Republicans of using a “fearmongering campaign” to undermine Mr. Obama’s plan to close the detention camp.

“Our system is perfectly capable of handling both their trial and their incarceration in the United States and keeping Americans safe,” Mr. Gude said in the conference call with Mr. Reed.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the rush to close Guantanamo Bay comes despite a 94-3 nonbinding Senate vote in 2007 against bringing terrorist detainees to the U.S. mainland.

“What’s changed?” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “America is still at war against terror networks around the world. The detainees held at Guantanamo are still some of the most dangerous terrorists alive. … And Americans still don’t want these men in their neighborhoods.”

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