GOP lawmakers expect Obama will have to extend deadline for closing Gitmo detention facility
By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL
May 17, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican lawmakers said Sunday they expect President Barack Obama to extend his "arbitrary" January deadline for closing the Guantanamo military prison as he finds it difficult to relocate the suspected terrorists held there.
"The president made a mistake by picking a date certain," Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said. "He's changed his mind about a number of things. This is one, I think, that requires an adjustment in his position."
Officials say there are 241 detainees are the U.S. military base on Cuba. Obama said last week that military trials would hear charges against those accused of assisting in the Sept. 11 attacks and other acts of terrorism.
Under his administration's plan, most of the prisoners will be released, sent to other countries, tried in civilian courts in the U.S. or held indefinitely as prisoners of war. The president said the detainees would have stronger legal protections than were offered under the Bush administration's military commissions.
Bills that would prove $50 million to shutter the facility link the money to a detailed plan for dealing with the detainees. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have spoken against bringing any detainees to the U.S.
"It's the perfect place for them," said McConnell, R-Ky., who favors keeping Guantanamo open. "There's no reason in the world to bring these people to the United States. I don't think there's a community in America that's going to be interested in taking them."
Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he expects Obama to reverse himself on closing goal.
"They should stay in Guantanamo until the president finds out where they should go," said King, R-N.Y. "I think he's going to keep it open at least until he can find out where they can go. President (George W.) Bush wanted to close it. President Obama wants it closed, but he made a mistake by setting an arbitrary deadline."
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said he opposed bringing any detainees to Virginia or elsewhere in the U.S. That includes 17 Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, who had received terrorist training from al-Qaida. The government has cleared the Uighurs for release but doesn't want to send them to China for fear that they will be tortured for their activities there.
Webb said Guantanamo should be closed only after it has been used to process the detainees.
"We should close down Guantanamo at the right time," he said. "Let's process them the right rules of law, the right due process, within the constraints of how we have to handle these cases, with military intelligence and that sort of thing, but the facility is there at Guantanamo to do it. And then close it down."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the remaining detainees at Guantanamo pose a danger and cannot be released easily. He agreed with Obama's decision to resume military commissions.
"The president has made some changes in the military commissions to give these people some additional rights, and perhaps that helps to balance the situation," Kyl said. "This would liberalize it to some extent. We'll have to wait and see whether it liberalizes it so much that they don't work any more. But I'm happy to see how they work out."
McConnell appeared on "Fox News Sunday" while King spoke on CBS's "Face the Nation." Webb and Kyl appeared on ABC's "This Week."