• Republicans Battle Over Gitmo During Conference Merging Defense Bill

    As the conference merging the Senate and House versions of the defense bill continues to unfold, lawmakers are pondering how to reconcile two different visions for Guantanamo Bay– one of which involves the potential for closing the facility.

    The first option, promoted by Republican Sen. John McCain, would present a closure plan from the Obama administration to Congress for consideration. This plan would likely involve closing down the prison facility and shipping prisoners to the U.S., Politico reports.

    But the House has a different idea: House legislators want to increase restrictions on the facility and thwart President Barack Obama from using the remainder of his time in office to fulfill his campaign promise of shutting down the prison. The administration has tried desperately to speed up the pace of transfers. A total of 116 prisoners are still locked away following the release of six detainees in June. (RELATED: Bin Laden’s Entourage A Part Of Latest Gitmo Transfer)

    Both House and Senate legislators are convening for backroom talks about how to reconcile the bills. Interestingly, the Senate bill would also tighten up restrictions on detainee transfers. The difference, however, is that it offers a way for the Obama administration to move prisoners to the U.S. either for trial or further detention. Onlookers aren’t hopeful.

    First, the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that intends to veto the National Defense Authorization Act and not solely because of Guantanamo Bay. Second, it seems unlikely that legislators would be willing to consider looking at a closure plan from the Obama administration. Third, even if the Senate bill in its current form is adopted as the final version, McCain’s move would only force a review of the plan and not a decision one way or another on the future prospects of the facility.

    “Politically it looks good — it looks like it gives everyone a chance to participate in closing Guantánamo together,” Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First told Politico, commenting on the conference. “But realistically, the politics are such that a lot of the Republicans, especially in the House, have been clear they’re not going to approve anything that the president puts forward in terms of closing Guantánamo.”

    Many of the differences between the two versions of the bill have already been fixed, save for several provisions forwarded by McCain. To make matters worse, the Obama administration hasn’t even sent McCain a closure plan, though Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said last month that a plan would soon be forthcoming. Carter himself has said that he’s not confident that Obama will succeed in his goal. Pressure is starting to build from the Cuban side, as well, with the island demanding the return of the bay to Cuban control.

    On Monday, as the Cuban Embassy opened in Washington, D.C., Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s minister of foreign affairs, stated that, “The historic events we are living today will only make sense with the removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes so much deprivation and damage to our people, the return of occupied territory in Guantanamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba.”

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