House Refuses to Take Steps Toward Closing Guantanamo, NDAA Now Moves to Senate

On May 22, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal to take concrete steps towards closing the Guantanamo prison.

Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Armed Service Committee, sought to amend the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to remove the ban on transferring detainees to the U.S., speed up long-delayed administrative reviews to determine whether detainees should be released, and – through a series of reporting requirements – force a timely and serious conversation between the Obama Administration and Congress about plans for closure.

In a letter to all House Members, TCP Senior Counsel Scott Roehm noted the importance of lifting U.S. transfer restrictions to allow both for prosecutions in federal courts and for transferring detainees in need of medical care that cannot be provided at Guantanamo – a problem increasing in scope and scale as detainees age.  TCP has long argued that detainees who can be tried in Article III courts should be.  Our federal judicial system’s track record of safely and effectively handling complex terrorism cases since September 11, 2001 speaks for itself.  Military commissions, by contrast, have yet to prove that they are up to the task of providing fair and timely justice.

Roehm also emphasized the importance of speeding up the periodic review process for detainees who have not yet been cleared for transfer.  Although those reviews have begun, “the pace has been exceptionally slow: only six hearings have been held to date, and only three of those cases have been decided. There is no compelling reason to continue to hold a detainee who does not pose a significant threat to the United States,” he said.

The House rejected Smith’s amendment on a vote of 177-247.  Though this was an unfortunate defeat for ongoing efforts to close Guantanamo, the House avoided a much more problematic proposal:  a ban on any detainee being transferred to Yemen.  Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) offered such an amendment and TCP joined a coalition of civil liberties, human rights, and religious organizations in opposing it.  In a letter to all House Members, the groups explained why a Yemen transfer ban was “unnecessary, unwise, and unjust” and urged members to vote against it.  Due to an unexpected procedural development, a vote on the amendment was never held.

Action on the NDAA now moves to the Senate – specifically, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which began marking up its version of the bill on May 21 and is expected to complete its work no later than Friday, May 23.

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