Defying a veto threat, the U.S. Senate Thursday approved an amendment that would bar the government from transferring detainees at Guantanamo Bay to other facilities.
The amendment, attached to a defense spending authorization bill by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is one in a long string of congressional moves to block the Barack Obama administration from shifting inmates out of Guantanamo Bay. Language in a 2010 defense spending bill, for example, prohibited the use of federal money for transferring Guantanamo inmates to the United States for trial.
In a statement warning that Obama would veto the bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget said the Obama administration “continues to oppose the prohibition on funding to construct, acquire or modify a detention facility in the United States to house any individual detained at Guantanamo.”
Early in his first term, Obama directed the U.S. Department of Justice to look into acquiring a state prison in Illinois to absorb Guantanamo detainees. The president later abandoned the effort -- stymied in part by Congress -- and later resumed military commission trials at Guantanamo Bay while endorsing a formal system of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists.
The Senate’s vote comes shortly after the release of a Government Accountability Office report finding that the U.S. prison system has the capacity to house the remaining 156 inmates held at Guantanamo Bay. The analysis noted that Congress would need to lift some legal and logistical hurdles, like allowing the Department of Justice to take on custody of people convicted in Department of Defense-run military trials.
But Congress appears to be moving in the opposite direction. The Senate amendment passed 54 to 41, with 10 Democrats in support. Lawmakers argued that the American public has no desire to see Guantanamo Bay shuttered.
"The American people don't want to close Guantanamo Bay, which is an isolated military controlled facility, to bring these crazy bastards that want to kill us all to the United States," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said during floor debate. "Most Americans believe that the people at Guantanamo Bay are not some kind of burglar or bank robber. They are bent on our destruction."
Other senators warned that they were wasting their time in sending Obama a bill he has already sworn to veto.
“This is what we call ‘veto bait,’” Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., said during the floor debate.