US Congress bars closure of Guantanamo

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The Independent US

Guantanamo Bay, widely seen as a symbol of American double-speak on human rights, is likely to remain in business for a good while in the wake of a vote on Capitol Hill that seeks to bar the White House from moving detainees to US soil for trial or detention.

Buried inside an end-of-year spending bill approved by the House of Representatives, the provision is another blow to the credibility of President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to shutter Guantanamo within a year of taking office – a deadline long passed. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure, but the House move renders all talk of closing the infamous facility in the foreseeable future barely credible.

It triggered a stinging rebuke from the Obama administration. "We strongly oppose this provision. Congress should not limit the tools available to the executive branch in bringing terrorists to justice and advancing our national security interests," a Justice Department spokesman said.

So clearly articulated before he came to office, Mr Obama's promise to empty Guantanamo of all its detainees has brought him only frustration and political woe. With the Republicans set to take control of the House in January, there is little chance of his making good on it during his first four-year term.

Hardly helping is a report that was partially declassified this week from the National Intelligence Director, James Clapper, suggesting that, of the 598 prisoners that have already been released from the prison – mostly by the Bush administration – 81 are known to have returned to terror-related activities.

The original notion was to persuade allies to take as many of the Guantanamo detainees as possible and to transfer others to a special prison on the US mainland. Mr Obama also envisaged ending the special military tribunals and sending some of the accused for trial within the civil judiciary system.

But opposition was strong on all fronts. Foreign countries were not anxious to take back detainees in spite of rigorous American arm-twisting, and officials in New York rebelled when the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, revealed plans to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, on trial in a federal court in Manhattan.

Moreover, there was an angry reaction from Republicans in particular when the one trial in US territory that did get under way ended last month in the defendant, Ahmed Ghailani, being found guilty of only one of several hundred counts against him arising from the African embassy bombings.

US officials point out that the sentencing of Ghailani next month may yet result in him spending the rest of his life behind bars. But opponents of civilian trials for terror suspects argue that they may not allow the use of key evidence, whereas fewer restrictions hamper prosecutors in military tribunals.

The sense of disarray was only reinforced when Britain, ostensibly America's closest ally in combating terror, announced last month that it had reached a deal financially to compensate Britons who had been interned at Guantanamo, a decision that conservatives in the US considered a slap in the face.

Today there are still 174 detainees at the facility. The measure approved by the House in a vote late Wednesday seeks to withhold all funding from any effort by the White House to move detainees to the US mainland.

"None of the funds made available in this or any prior Act may be used to transfer, release ... to or within the US... Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee," it said.