House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) took umbrage at Obama’s claims from a congressional point of view.
“The president faces bipartisan opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay’s detention center because he has offered no alternative plan regarding the detainees there, nor a plan for future terrorist captures,” McKeon said.
“For years, Congress has encouraged the president to develop a comprehensive detention policy. In the administration’s failure to do so, they have removed lawful options from our counterterrorism arsenal. ”
McKeon added that lawmakers have not been “idle” at trying to chart a correct path for the detention center’s future.
“For the past two years, our Committee has worked with our Senate counterparts to ensure that the certifications necessary to transfer detainees overseas are reasonable,” the chairman said. “The administration has never certified a single transfer. Contrary to what President Obama has implied, there are no restrictions on releasing detainees who have won their habeas cases in federal court.”
Forty-six dangerous detainees have been flagged for indefinite detention. Eighty-six of the current detainees at Gitmo have been approved for transfer to their home countries or another nation willing to take them under strict security conditions.
That counts out the country where the majority of those 86 are from — Yemen — because of the administration’s freeze on transfers there imposed after underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s botched 2009 attempt to blow up an airliner. The plot was reportedly hatched by Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter last week to National Security Director Tom Donilon asking the administration to “renew its efforts” to transfer the detainees — and rethink the Yemen policy.
“The fact that so many detainees have now been held at Guantanamo for over a decade and their belief that there is still no end in sight for them is a reason there is a growing problem of more and more detainees on a hunger strike,” she wrote. “This week, monitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross who travelled to Guantanamo recently told my staff that the level of desperation among the detainees is ‘unprecedented’ in their view.”
“Although [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] still has a strong presence in Yemen, I believe it would be prudent to re-visit the decision to halt transfers to Yemen and assess whether President Hadi’s government, with appropriate assistance, would be able to securely hold detainees in Sana’a,” Feinstein continued. “Do you believe that we can work with Yemen to develop an appropriate framework for the return of all 56 Yemenis previously recommended for transfer?”
Feinstein offered her assistance to help find new homes for the “cleared” detainees.
But even some cleared detainees who have been relocated have scuttled off to temporary locations with no permanent move in sight.
Six Uighurs who were transferred to the island of Palau as a temporary solution in 2009 told a Toronto Star reporter in February that they’ve been given no hope of a permanent home as U.S. support to the impoverished nation for taking the detainees has run out.
The Chinese Muslims can’t go home for fear of what the People’s Republic would do to them, but they’re also not allowed passports to leave the island.
Feinstein noted that the desk of the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantanamo, who was helping the Uighurs, has been cleared out and the Obama administration has no intention of filling Ambassador Daniel Fried’s post.
“I urge the administration to fill this vacant position or to appoint another senior Administration official with the specific responsibility to achieve the conditions necessary to close Guantanamo,” she wrote.