- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Senate panel approved a bill Thursday that further restricts the president’s ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay, sending the debate on closing the military prison to the full Senate.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican and sponsor of the bill, said she was happy the bill passed, despite the fact that it didn’t garner the support of any of her Democratic colleagues.

“I’ve been told that we could move fairly quickly to the floor on it,” she said.

Senators told reporters that the Armed Services Committee approved the bill on a party line 14-12 vote in a session that was closed to the public.

The bill would suspend the transfer of detainees who show a likelihood of returning to the fight against the U.S., would stop transfers to Yemen altogether, would continue the current ban on bringing detainees to U.S. soil and would hinder even the transfer of low-risk detainees to foreign countries.

The administration has pushed back on the proposal, since it would effectively halt all transfers for the remaining two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency, forcing a final default on his campaign promise to close the prison.

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Mr. Obama has increased the pace of releases since May, when he sent five detainees to Qatar in exchange for the safe return of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The swap for the so-called “Taliban Five” angered many in Congress because the president didn’t follow the law requiring him to give lawmakers a 30-day notice of any transfers.

Twenty-two prisoners were transferred in the last two months of 2014 and five were transferred last month. There are 122 prisoners still being held at Guantanamo Bay, the majority of whom are medium- or high-risk individuals.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the bill was approved without any major changes.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said that when the bill reaches the full Senate floor, he will offer an amendment that would lift the restrictions if and when Congress approves a plan to close the prison.

The Senate committee historically has not held mark-ups outside of the annual defense policy bill, but Mr. McCain said standalone debates like the one Thursday afternoon would be more common under his leadership.

“We’re going to do things differently this year, we’re going to have more bills,” he said.

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