In an inexplicable move by the opposing party, Senate Republicans are offering President Barack Obama the opportunity to close the detention facility for terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
If the enabling legislation passes Congress and Obama takes Republicans up on the offer, the president will be able to keep his campaign promise to close the facility before he leaves office.
Speculation about closing the prison facility began following a vote by the Senate Armed Services Committee that passed the $612 billion defense authorization bill out of committee last week by a bipartisan 22-4 vote.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), said the bill includes reforms acquisition, retirement and personnel issues mentioning the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison language in the bill almost as a side issue.
If passed by the full Senate, the measure would go to the House where opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay is decidedly stronger. As written, the bill would require the administration to provide Congress with a comprehensive plan as to how to close the prison. If approved by Congress, the administration would have free hand to implement the closure plan.
Some national security hawks question McCain’s judgement on the issue. To quote McCain, “I’ve also been in favor of closing Guantanamo because of the image that Guantanamo has in the world, whether it’s deserved or not.”
Some opponents to the plan do not think “image considerations” should play a role in national security decisions. If “image” is to play a role in how the United States defends its national security interests, U.S. adversaries, politicos trying to affect policy or the news media could blow up anything into an “image issue” requiring repeal or amendment.
Opponents also point to Guantanamo as an important national security asset – a place where detainees suspected of terrorism can be removed from the battlefield without giving them access to civilian U.S. courts where the full range of rights afforded U.S. citizens accused of crimes would apply.
These rights include the right to a public trial, to an attorney at public expense, to face ones accusers, view and challenge (classified) evidence, to remain silent and other civil liberties.
A civilian trial would also mean that any evidence collected through interrogation could not be presented at trial because the accused had not been advised of their rights prior to questioning or been given the benefit of counsel.
Senator McCain tried to make a fiscal argument against keeping Guantanamo Bay open saying the it costs about $3.5 million per prisoner each year to detain them at Guantanamo Bay as opposed to $70,000 a year at a maximum security prison in the United States.
Current law prohibits the Obama Administration from transferring detainees to the United States for any reason or from building any facility in the U.S. to house Gitmo prisoners