WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress would have to approve a detailed plan submitted by President Barack Obama to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba before it could be shut down, according to legislation approved Wednesday by a Senate committee.
The provision was hailed by the two leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which included it in an overall defense policy bill the panel adopted 22-4. Panel Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and top Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island said the Guantanamo language had bipartisan support.
A description of the plan released by the committee does not specify where the detainees would be sent. McCain told reporters the detainees would be moved to "a suitable place in the United States" where they would be held at a Defense Department facility, which an aide said later was an outcome McCain supports.
Obama has long wanted to empty the facility of its terrorism suspects, some of whom have been held since months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That has run into objections from lawmakers over where the detainees would go and the legal protections they might have should they be kept on U.S. soil.
The proposal has also encountered opposition from legislators unhappy that Obama swapped five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl last year without consulting Congress. Bergdahl was held by the Taliban for five years, but now faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
McCain was angered by that swap and has favored preventing Obama from unilaterally releasing additional detainees. But he said he has long favored closing Guantanamo because it has harmed the U.S. image abroad.
"There's a consensus, I think a bipartisan consensus, that the facility should be closed," Reed said. "The question, how do you do it, and we hope we have provided a pathway."
The House version of the defense bill imposes new restrictions on Obama's ability to release detainees from Guantanamo.
Obama has said keeping the prisoners at Guantanamo is costly, but Congress has blocked him from moving them to the U.S., including to maximum security prisons.