U.S. budget deal could complicate plans to close Guantanamo

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 27, 2015 7:58 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The budget deal with Congress could complicate President Barack Obama's push to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, which has been caught up in his fight with Republicans over spending caps, congressional aides and rights activists said on Tuesday.

Obama last week vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act, objecting to the way the massive policy bill used money meant for war spending to avoid defense budget cuts, as well as provisions making it more difficult to close the Guantanamo prison.

The budget deal addressed the spending issue by raising caps for domestic programs as well as defense, removing what lawmakers called Obama's main concern about the NDAA.

"He had concerns about Guantanamo," said Representative Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives. "But the major concern was that they were using (the war funds) and not doing anything for the non-defense."

Democratic and Republican aides said they expected the defense bill would eventually be rewritten to reflect the budget deal, raising the question of whether Obama would veto it again over Guantanamo.

A House override vote is scheduled for Nov. 5.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on Obama's plans.

Rights activists said they did not know what Obama intended. He has vowed to close the controversial detention center since he first campaigned for the presidency in 2008.

"What I hope is that this isn't a decision about politics, it's a decision about the right thing to do," said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch.

Efforts to close Guantanamo have been thwarted in Congress via provisions such as bans on transferring detainees to U.S. soil included in the NDAA.

Obama's fellow Democrats said they had enough votes to sustain Obama's veto over the funding issue. But aides said sustaining an NDAA veto over Guantanamo would be difficult.

The defense bill has been passed annually for over half a century.

Three Republican senators - Kelly Ayotte, Shelley Moore Capito and Tim Scott praised Guantanamo as the best place to hold dangerous detainees at a news conference on Tuesday.

Democrats said it would be easier to make the case if Obama would send Congress a long-promised plan for closing Guantanamo.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Pentagon officials at a hearing on Tuesday. "I've always favored closing Guantanamo for a whole variety of reasons. And yet, we still haven't got a plan from you," he said.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by)