Congressional GOP Push Back Against Obama's New Gitmo Policy

Congressional Republicans are pushing legislation in response to President Obama’s dictate on Monday that gives more legal rights to the accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.  The Congress was not consulted by the White House before an Executive Order was made to restart military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, which did not address the larger legal and national security issues related to the military prison. 

“We have serious concerns about the substance of President Obama’s executive sanction order creating a new review procedure for the Guantanamo detainees,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R.-Calif.) on Tuesday.  “We will be introducing legislation dealing with the most significant problems raised by the executive order and other detainee-related issues.”

One day after Obama unilaterally determined U.S. policy on suspected terrorists detailed at Guantanamo Bay, McKeon sped up announcing legislation to redress the mistakes made in the administration’s policy.  The Detainee Security Act of 2011 would counter the White House order and put into law policies for handling the detainees and protection from terrorists. 

On his second day in the White House in January 2009, Obama put out an Executive Order that he would close Guantanamo Bay’s prison for holding those captured in the War on Terror.  Obama attempted to move the accused terrorists to the U.S. for civilian trials, which met extreme backlash from Congress and the public.  As a result, Obama was forced to restart the military trials of the detainees who are still held at the base in Cuba. 

“President Obama made a commitment in 2009 to come together and create a path forward with Congress.  Unfortunately, that has not happened,” McKeon said. 

“Instead, the White House did the exact opposite yesterday by emphasizing executive authority and leveling significant criticism toward Congress, calling our actions ‘dangerous,’ “ McKeon continued.  “What I believe is dangerous is terrorists who wish to harm the Untied States.” 

In response to Obama’s announced new policy on Monday, McKeon’s committee released legislation at a hastily arranged press conference.  McKeon stood with six members of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry (R.-Tex.), Randy Forbes (R.-Va.), Rob Wittman (R.-Va.), Tom Rooney (R.-Fla.), Bobby Schilling (R.-Ill.) and Tim Griffin (R.-Ark.).

The legislation announced will keep Guantanamo Bay open, ban the alleged terrorists from coming to U.S. soil, block funding for any facility in the U.S. for the detainees, affirm that military law is in effect for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and terrorist networks, control release of detainees to other countries so that they cannot return to the battlefield, and directly oppose the new legal rights bestowed on the detainees by Obama. 

The “Detainee Security Act” would ban any current or future detainees at Guantanamo Bay from being brought to the United States.  Also, the bill would put new restrictions into law to prevent detainees from being released to third countries that do not have adequate security to keep them from returning to terrorist cells. 

“Our legislation would prohibit those detainees from being transferred into the United States, that would be put in law,” said Wittman.  “But it would also clearly define how we make sure that those countries which we might have agreements with to transfer the detainees aren’t places where they can reenter terrorism or the battlefield.”

Over the past two years, Obama has attempted to move the detainees to the U.S. to be tried in civilian courts, including to a prison in Illinois.  The Republican bill would prohibit any federal funding for facilities in the U.S. to house Guantanamo detainees.

“We will specifically stop funding for the construction or modification of any facilities inside the United States to house Gitmo detainees.  In other words, this legislation would mean no detainees in Thompson, Illinois, or anywhere in the United States,” said Schilling, who is from Illinois. 

The bill also requires that the detainees must be held in military custody in order to use them for intelligence purposes.  McKeon said, “The law of war detention is a critical tool necessary to neutralize terrorists and obtain valuable intelligence.”

The House bill directly counters Obama’s Executive Order on Monday, which gave numerous new legal rights for the suspected terrorists to have their detention reviewed repeatedly.  Under the Republican bill, detainees would not be allowed to have a lawyer for any administrative review and requires that any recommendation resulting from such a review be made by a military officer. 

“The Gitmo detainees already enjoy unlimited access to attorneys and are able to take full advantage of the federal courts.  We do not need to create yet another layer of review so that their lawyers can drag their cases through endless litigating during this time of war,” said Rooney, a former member of the Army JAG Corps.

Furthermore, the bill reiterates that these are prisoners of war and should be judged by military tribunals, not civilian courts. 

“This bill makes it clear that we are engaged in a continuing armed conflict and the President is authorized to detain those who are a part of, or supporting, al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States,” said Thornberry.  “We think this is important to put into law.”

Also, the bill ensures that the military, not the Department of Justice, conducts the interrogations of the prisoners. 

“Our military and intelligence communities, not the Department of Justice, should be leading our law of war detention and intelligence-gathering efforts.  The Department of Justice should not be in charge of determining the national security threat that an individual poses or their potential intelligence value,” said Rooney.

McKeon said that he is working closely with Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R.-S.C.), who are drafting similar legislation.  Both the House and Senate Republicans are outraged that Obama did not consult Congress before making these policies with Executive Orders.  McKeon said that the bill will either come to the House floor as a stand-alone bill or be included in his “Defense Authorization Act”  bill, which is scheduled for a vote in May. 

The freshman Schilling noted at the press conference that the American people voted to put 87 new Republicans in the House, who should have input into the Guantanamo Bay policies. 

“I always asked during the campaign, ‘Why are we closing Gitmo?’  And ‘Will it make America any safer by bringing some of the world’s most terrible people here?’ ’’ said Schilling.  “I’m confident that this bill will ensure that these terrorists will be dealt with in the best interest of the United States.”