Obama Urged to Veto NDAA that Would Reinstate Onerous Guantanamo Restrictions

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today calls on President Obama to veto the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if the final bill contains provisions that would increase onerous transfer restrictions on Guantanamo Bay detainees. The House version of the NDAA, which includes these provisions, passed with a vote of 269-151.

“We are disappointed to see the House pass these unnecessary and unwise provisions,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. “National security experts and President Obama agree that closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay is essential for reestablishing our nation’s commitment to the rule of law and protecting our security. The president should veto any legislation that runs counter to this goal.”

An amendment to the NDAA proposed by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN2) would effectively put a two-year ban on the transfer of 102 of the 122 detainees held at Guantanamo.  This includes many of those who have been unanimously cleared for transfer by both the Bush and Obama Administrations, as well as the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The amendment also prevents the Secretary of Defense from using a national security waiver to transfer any detainee to a “combat zone”—a term used to provide tax exemptions to service members but which has no connection to where Guantanamo detainees can be safely transferred. This would prohibit transfers to viable countries such as Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where there have not been active hostilities for more than a decade and which have successfully resettled Guantanamo detainees.

Yesterday, Major Gen. Michael Lehnert, the first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, urged Members of Congress to reject the Walorski amendment. The call came in a letter that also pressed representatives to support an amendment that would establish a framework for closing the detention facility.

Current transfer restrictions also prohibit the transfer of detainees to the United States for any reason, including for prosecution. Human Rights First notes that federal courts have completed nearly 500 cases related to international terrorism since 9/11.  Of those, at least 67 cases have involved individuals captured overseas, according to Department of Justice data obtained by Human Rights First in a Freedom of Information Act request. Meanwhile, military commissions have completed only eight cases in nearly 13 years, with four of its convictions reversed on appeal.

In addition to vetoing this legislation, Human Rights First urges President Obama to use his current authority to transfer all cleared detainees out of Guantanamo Bay and increase the pace of Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings. During the past year, the administration transferred 32 detainees from Guantanamo Bay, marking significant progress towards closing the prison.

“The president shouldn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal of closing Guantanamo by the end of his second term,” said Eviatar.


Published on May 15, 2015


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