|Al Jazeera, May 21, 2009
The US senate has denied funding for Barack Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre by January, voting instead to keep it running indefinitely.
The senate voted on Wednesday to block any transfer of prisoners to facilities on the US mainland, saying they wanted to first see a detailed plan from the president on what would happen to the men.
The crushing 90-6 bipartisan vote comes a day before Obama is scheduled to outline his plan for the 240 detainees still being held at the much-criticised detention centre.
Obama had requested for $80m to transfer the remaining detainees before shutting down the facility at the US naval base in Cuba by January 2010.
The vote comes on the heels of a similar move last week in the House of Representatives.
The Republicans in recent weeks have also called for keeping the Guantanamo prison open.
The White House said after the vote that Obama would reveal details of his plans for the prisoners in a speech on national security on Thursday.
“The president understands that his most important job is to keep the American people safe and that he is not going to make any decision or any judgment that imperils the safety of the American people,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said.Gibbs said Obama had not decided where some of the detainees would be sent but added that the president “understands that there aren’t any easy decisions in this” but was determined to work with congress to fulfil his pledge to shut the place down.
Wednesday’s vote drew criticism from the Pentagon which said legislators were making it “exceedingly difficult” to meet the president’s January deadline.
The senate’s vote, however, is not the final word on the matter.
The congress is expected to complete work on the legislation next month, giving the White House time pursue a compromise that would allow Obama to fulfil his pledge.
Earlier the head of the FBI told a congressional panel about the risks involved in bringing Guantanamo detainees into the US.
“The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, radicalising others with regard to violent extremism, the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States,” Robert Mueller, the FBI’s director, said.
Mueller said the threat of Guantanamo detainees radicalising others would apply even if they were held in supermaximum-security prisons on the US mainland.Also this week, John Bates, a US district judge, ruled that some of the prisoners could be held indefinitely at Guantanamo without being charged, increasing the pressure on the Obama administration to develop a plan.
The overwhelming senate vote against Obama’s plan was a victory for the Republicans, but Obama’s Democratic allies, even in voting to deny the funds to close the detention facility, insisted the president was fundamentally correct.
“Guantanamo is used by al-Qaeda as a symbol of American abuse of Muslims and is fanning the flames of anti-Americanism around the world,” Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator, said.