May 20, 2009 in Nation/World

Democrats stall funding to close Guantanamo prison

Shailagh Murray Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Under pressure from Republicans and concerned about the politics of relocating terrorism suspects on U.S. soil, Senate Democrats rejected President Obama’s request for funding to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and vowed to withhold federal dollars until the president decides the fate of the facility’s 240 detainees.

The decision represents a potentially serious setback for Obama, who as a candidate vowed to close Guantanamo and who signed an executive order beginning the process soon after he took office.

Obama had asked Congress for $80 million to close the facility, located on a U.S. military base in Cuba, by early 2010. Many Democrats view Guantanamo as an affront to the U.S. legal system and a symbol of Bush-era detainee policies, but they are increasingly wary about the next step, as yet undefined by Obama, of relocating the terrorism suspects who are detained at the site.

As recently as last week, Senate Democrats had hoped to preserve a portion of Obama’s Guantanamo funding request. But their resolve crumbled in the face of a concerted Republican campaign warning of dire consequences if some detainees ended up in prisons or other facilities in the United States, a possibility that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged.

Obama will clarify and expand on his Guantanamo plans in a speech Thursday, senior administration officials said. But his remarks will come too late to restore the funding, which he had sought as part of the emergency Iraq and Afghanistan spending bill that is moving through the Senate. The bill cleared the House last week without funding for the Guantanamo shutdown.

“We agree with Congress that before resources, that they should receive a more detailed plan,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday. He said Obama will address Thursday whether the detainees would be transferred to U.S. prisons, sent to other countries or a combination of both.

Once those details are resolved, Gibbs added, “the president and Congress will work together on a timeline for a renewed request for whatever resources are needed.”

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