Congress cools to Obama plan for Gitmo
By Catharine Richert
Published on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 at 4:33 p.m.
President Barack Obama's plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has run into significant opposition, most notably from members of his own party who stripped millions of dollars to shutter the facility that was included in a war funding bill.
Closing the prison has been one of Obama's signature issues since he was a candidate. On January 20, 2009, the day he was sworn in, he directed prosecutors to file a motion to suspend legal proceedings against the suspected terrorists held at the facility. Two days later, the administration issued an executive order to review the disposition of the prisoners and ordered that the facility be shut down within a year.
For weeks, Republicans have opposed Obama's plan, voicing concern that the administration has not said what will happen to the approximately 240 detainees housed at the center.
"The president, unwisely, in my view, announced an arbitrary timeline for closing Guantanamo of next January without a plan to deal with the terrorists who are incarcerated down there," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
House Democrats have similar concerns; they refused to include the $80 million requested by the administration to close the facility in the war spending bill. Senate Democrats initially included the money in their $91.3 billion version of the measure, but then stripped it out by a 90-6 vote on May 20.
"This is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this," said Democratic leader Harry Reid. "Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president," though Reid stressed that he still believes closing the facility is a good idea.
Just five months ago, Reid had softer words for Obama's executive order, saying that, at first blush, it appeared "to lay out a responsible and careful path that maintains every effective tool needed to defeat terrorists. In fact, I am convinced these changes will strengthen and enhance our counterterrorism efforts."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration still aims to follow the executive order and seal off the facility within a year. Meanwhile, Obama plans to offer more details on his strategy for dealing with the prisoners in speech on May 21.
Obama's efforts to close down Guantanamo Bay are not dead, but they have clearly reached a roadblock. Based on these latest actions, we're moving the Obameter to Stalled and will be watching how it develops over the next few months.
CQ Politics, Sen. Harry Reid's comments on Guantanamo Bay , May 19, 2009
White House, Transcript of Briefing of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs , May 19, 2009
Researchers: Catharine Richert
Names in this article: Barack Obama
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