WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration pushed back Thursday against a bill to place new restrictions on President Barack Obama's ability to transfer terror suspects out of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said the bill proposed by four powerful GOP senators would effectively ban most transfers from Guantanamo for two years.
"Because this legislation, if enacted, would effectively block progress toward the goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the administration opposes it," McKeon told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
McKeon also said that despite recent reports, none of the five Taliban detainees released in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban since June 2009, have "returned to the battlefield." There had been news reports that one tried to re-engage in the fight, but McKeon said all five continue to be monitored in Qatar.
The senators are Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They have introduced legislation to legally reinstate a ban on Yemeni transfers among other restrictions on Guantanamo transfers during Obama's remaining two years in office. They cited the recent shooting at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and other attacks linked to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington considers to be the group's most dangerous branch.
Nearly a dozen protesters, dressed in orange jumpsuits and T-shirts that read, "Shut down GITMO," attended the hearing. One had a black "Cleared For Release" poster pinned to her back. Two were escorted out after outbursts.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., expressed his opposition to closing the facility, saying the detainees could "rot in GITMO."
McCain, committee chairman, said that if the Obama administration wants to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, it needs to offer a plan to deal with the dozens of detainees who have been deemed too dangerous for release.
McCain said he wants to see the prison closed but that the administration has not provided what he says is a "responsible" plan to shutter the facility.
He posed several rhetorical questions, including where charges will be brought against detainees who can be tried for their alleged crimes and what is to be done with detainees who could be transferred out but who come from countries like Yemen that are engulfed in turmoil.