WASHINGTON-Senate Democrats Wednesday refused to help President Obama fulfill one of his top promises of his early presidency-to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The upper chamber joined the House in stripping out $80 million Obama had requested to close the detention center in Cuba and went further in blocking any detainees from coming to the United States. By a 90-6 vote, the Senate approved an amendment by Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, to block the funds. The near-unanimous denial indicates that the Obama administration, which had promised to close the facility by January 2010, has a battle on its hands over this issue.
Inouye said the vote wasn't a "referendum" on closing Guantanamo but a "reality check" for the administration, which hasn't provided details to Congress on where the 240 remaining detainees would go.
David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, voiced similar concerns; he said he would provide the president funding as soon as the administration presents a clear plan for closing the facility.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the president would present a "hefty part" of the plan they are looking for in a major speech on national security Thursday.
Politicians-Democrats and Republicans alike-are concerned about the possibility of detainees being sent to their home states, either to be incarcerated or released. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has spent the last several weeks pressing the issue on the Senate floor and elsewhere. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has himself said he would not support bringing detainees to U.S. soil.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that bringing detainees to the United States could expose the country to terrorist attacks by providing a launch base for those with terrorist sentiments to raise funds and radicalize others.
A Pentagon report leaked to The New York Times Wednesday shows that one in seven released detainees returned to terrorist activities.
The anonymous official who released the report to the Times said the issue had become so politically charged that the report couldn't be held or released.
"If we hold it, then everybody claims it's political and you're protecting the Obama administration," he told the Times. "And if we let it go, then everybody says you're undermining Obama."
Transferring the high-profile detainees has also proved to be expensive, requiring tight security and intelligence handling. According to Great Britain's foreign minister, the one-way transfer of now-released Binyam Mohamed in February cost more than 121,000 pounds, or about $188,000 at current exchange rates. Though Congress denied the president the $80 million in this bill, he may be able to get the necessary funds through other appropriations.