Senate leader blocks defense bill over detainees

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 05, 2011 6:04 PM
Senate leader blocks defense bill over detainees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will block consideration of the wide-ranging defense bill until provisions on how terrorism suspects will be treated are changed, according to a letter released on Wednesday.

Reid, who controls the Senate floor schedule, said he would not bring up the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act until changes were made to address concerns raised by the Obama administration and some senators about restrictions over detaining terrorism suspects.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a compromise over the detainees, including requiring military detention for core al Qaeda suspects, limiting transfers overseas and barring the military from building facilities on U.S. soil to house detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.

Reid said in an October 4 letter to the leaders of the committee that the Obama administration needed more flexibility when it came to dealing with terrorism suspects.

"This includes the use of our criminal justice system," Reid said. "Limitations on that flexibility, or on the availability of critical counterterrorism tools, would significantly threaten our national security."

Republicans and even some of President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats have opposed bringing terrorism suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo to American soil to face prosecution in traditional federal criminal courts.

Congress has blocked the Obama administration from moving any of the suspects still held there to U.S. soil for prosecution, arguing they should not be given full U.S. legal rights and could make cities targets for attack.

The administration had to reverse plans to bring the five men accused of being involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks to New York City for trial in a criminal court. They will now be prosecuted in military commissions at the Guantanamo prison.

The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, urged Reid to reconsider and to allow a debate over the issue.

"I know that many members on my side would very much appreciate a debate on the importance of keeping detainees currently held at Guantanamo from returning to the battlefield, especially in places like Yemen," he said on the Senate floor.

Some of those detainees held at Guantanamo but later released have returned to fighting against the United States. Yemen has been a hotbed of activity by a wing of the militant group al Qaeda.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)