Senate Takes Steps toward Closing Guantanamo during Today’s NDAA Debate
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First praises the Senate’s bipartisan effort to pave the way to closing Guantanamo during today’s debate on the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Senate NDAA authorizes transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for prosecution, incarceration, or emergency medical treatment. The Senate NDAA also clarifies the process to mitigate risks of foreign transfers of detainees cleared for transfer by our intelligence and defense agencies.
“The Senate has taken the first step to fulfill its obligation to find lawful dispositions for all law of war detainees as the United States faces the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014,” said Human Rights First’s C. Dixon Osburn. “Guantanamo is inefficient and expensive. Guantanamo can be closed responsibly, balancing our legal obligations with our security needs.”
The Senate also rejected an amendment by Senator Ayotte (R-NH), 43-55, that would have maintained the current bans on transfers to the United States and made permanent the current restrictions on transferring detainees abroad, while adding an unnecessary ban on transfers to Yemen, regardless of the unanimous recommendations of the security and intelligence agencies that have reviewed detainee cases.
A coalition of 38 retired generals and admirals told senators in advance of the NDAA debate that “We have always believed that our detention policies should adhere to the rule of law, and that we as a nation are more secure when we do.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told senators this week that Guantanamo remains a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda.
Efforts to close Guantanamo have gained momentum this year. In a May speech at the National Defense University, President Obama pledged significant steps aimed at closing the island prison. Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and McCain (R-AZ) joined White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on a trip to Guantanamo and together pledged efforts to close the prison. In recent months, President Obama designated Lisa Monaco at the White House to oversee efforts to close Guantanamo, and appointed two special envoys to shepherd this work: Clifford Sloan at the State Department and Paul Lewis at the Defense Department.
The next stop for the defense bill will be conference where Senate and House conferees will have to negotiate differences between their two bills. The House version of the NDAA maintains bans on transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for prosecution or any other reason, imposes a permanent ban on transfers to Yemen, and maintains cumbersome transfer certification requirements that have complicated efforts to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, even those cleared for transfer by our defense and intelligence agencies.