WASHINGTON — US lawmakers have effectively blocked President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the controversial terror prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by approving a Pentagon budge that forbids spending money on the move.
After months of wrangling, both the House and Senate Wednesday approved a $725.9 billion defense spending plan for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2010.
Included in the bill is language that makes it virtually impossible to close the prison by building a substitute prison or relocating prisoners to the United States.
The budget prohibits the use of defense funding “to construct or modify a facility within the United States to house detainees transferred from the Guantanamo detention facility” or “to transfer, release or assist in the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees to or within the United States.”
Given the difficulty the US has had finding third countries to take former detainees, even those cleared of wrong-doing, not moving them to a new prison leaves the administration few options.
The defense department is also forbidden from sending former Guantanamo detainees to countries where others “were transferred and subsequently returned to terrorist activities.”
That clause, however, includes the loophole that such moves would be blocked “unless the transfer is in the US national security interests or necessary to carry out a court order.”
One of Obama’s first acts on taking office in January 2009 was to vow to close Guantanamo Bay, which he sees as a prime recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, within a year.
But his hopes were frustrated by opposition from lawmakers who wanted to prevent detainees being brought to the mainland United States, a legal thicket regarding anti-terror law and slow progress in persuading US allies to take in suspects who it is deemed can be freed.
There are still 174 detainees at Guantanamo, only three of whom have been formally tried and found guilty.