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A Florida Republican claims a measure passed in the Democrat-led House could bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the mainland United States, but that’s a misreading of the measure, experts say.
U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, of Sarasota, warned on Twitter July 12 that Democrats struck a near-decade-old ban on using money to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States. "This means that terrorists who are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay can be transferred to a neighborhood near you," wrote Steube.
Steube is right that the ban was removed in the House proposal.
But he’s wrong to say that means the 40 detainees currently in Cuba could be coming here.
• The House bill would only prohibit federal funds for additional detainees placed at Guantanamo Bay. Federal funding could still support the detainees already there;
• The House bill calls for federal officials to submit a "disposition plan" to Congress about the detainees. But the disposition plan is just that, a plan. It doesn’t have to be carried out. And Guantanamo doesn’t have to be closed;
• And because it matters, the White House says it will recommend that Trump veto the House bill if it were to reach his desk.
The House voted 220-197 to pass the $733 billion National Defense Authorization Act for 2020.
Republicans unanimously rejected the bill — and eight Democrats joined them — for multiple reasons including the Guantanamo provision and that it has $17 billion less than the Senate version. The House bill includes language that would prohibit "use of funds for transfer to and detention of additional individuals" at Guantanamo Bay on or after May 2, 2018. The Senate version extends the longstanding prohibition on using funds to transfer or release Gitmo detainees to the United States.
If the House bill became law as is (the veto warning means it won’t), it wouldn’t apply to detainees currently there, said Charles "Cully" Stimson, who coordinated the Pentagon’s detention policy during President George W. Bush’s administration.
"It doesn’t say you’ve got to get rid of the ones who are there," said Stimson, a legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The bill also states that the attorney general and defense secretary submit a plan to Congress about how to proceed with each individual detained at Guantanamo Bay. That doesn’t necessarily mean they would be sent to facilities in the United States.
Daphne Eviatar, an expert on detention at Amnesty International, said that a requirement to write a detention plan "doesn’t require the administration to do anything except tell Congress what the plan is."
Steube’s spokeswoman, Rachel Harris, said Democrats blocked an effort to include a ban on using money to move detainees to the United States, which was standard language in past annual defense bills.
Without a provision banning the use of funds to transfer detainees, they can be transferred at any time, Harris said.
"These detainees could end up in the United States at any number of facilities around the country that are located in American communities nationwide."
"Just because the House fails to include that provision barring the use of funds to bring in detainees to the U.S. doesn’t automatically mean that, if it becomes law as passed, that the executive branch will make the decision to bring detainees from Gitmo to the U.S.," he said. "There is a lot of green between the ball and the cup on this one."
Trump said in 2016 that "we're going to load it up with bad dudes." He hasn’t delivered on that goal — the population has essentially remained stagnant. But he has kept his promise to keep Guantanamo Bay open.
Even if the government decided to empty Guantanamo Bay, it doesn’t mean that detainees would land at detention facilities in the United States. Detainees could be sent to their home countries, another country or the country where they were apprehended.
"I don’t see any indication that anybody in the administration in the know has made the recommendation or push to have detainees brought to the U.S.," Stimson said. "To the contrary, the question has been if the administration can bring additional detainees to Gitmo including ISIS. They are not looking to unload detainees at Gitmo, they are looking to load up."
Steube said, "Terrorists who are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay can be transferred to a neighborhood near you" as a result of House Democrats’ actions on the National Defense Authorization Act.
Democrats struck a near-decade-old ban on using money to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States. But that doesn’t mean that the existing 40 detainees will be sent to facilities in the United States.
A House bill said that federal funding could not be spent on additional detainees sent to Guantanamo Bay. The House bill directs officials to write a plan about how to proceed with the detainees. But that plan doesn’t mean that detainees will be sent to the United States either.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, Twitter thread, July 14, 2019
Congress.gov, H.R.2500 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, July 12, 2019
U.S. Rep. Ralp Norman, R-SC, Amendment submitted to HR 2500, June 24, 2019
Congress.gov, S.1790 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, June 27, 2019
Executive Office of the President, STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY H.R. 2500 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020
Government Printing Office, National Defense Authorization Act, Fiscal year 2010
Congress.gov, National Defense Authorization Act, Fiscal year 2019
U.S. Department of Defense, Detainee Transfer Announced, May 2, 2018
The Hill, White House threatens to veto $733B defense policy bill, July 9, 2019
Roll Call, House approves NDAA with no Republican votes, July 12, 2019
New York Times, Congress Weighs Whether to Allow Guantánamo Prisoners to Travel to the U.S. for Medical Care, June 1, 2019
New York Times, The Guantanamo Docket, Accessed July 16, 2019
New York Times, Justice Breyer Raises Specter of Perpetual Detention Without Trial at Guantánamo, June 11, 2019
Washington Post, In a sign of fights to come, House defense bill highlights partisan divide over Iran, border wall, Guantanamo, June 13, 2019
Washington Times, House GOP slams Democrats for effort to repeal 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, July 15, 2019
Just Security, What’s In the New Draft National Defense Authorization Act, June 12, 2019
Military.com, Senate Panel Approves $750 Billion Defense Policy Bill, May 23, 2019
PolitiFact’s Trump-O-Meter, Keep Guantanamo Bay Detention Center open, Jan. 31, 2018
PolitiFact’s Obameter, Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, Jan. 20, 2017
Email interview, Rachel Harris, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube’s spokeswoman, July 16, 2019
Email and telephone interview, Charles "Cully" Stimson, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, July 17, 2019
Email interview, Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s Director of Security with Human Rights, July 17, 2019
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