US Republicans hammer Democrats on Guantanamo

Fri Jun 12, 2009 2:19pm EDT

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* Republicans demand details of Obama's Guantanamo plan

* 'We need to know the threat,' Republican lawmaker says

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON, June 12 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. lawmakers are digging in their heels over President Barack Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for foreign terrorism suspects, demanding details of his efforts, limits on detainee movements and thorough risk assessments.

Republicans in Congress have sought to amend legislation to seek more details about Obama's plan for closing the facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, which they say is an ideal and safe place for the trials and detention of terrorism suspects.

The battle over Guantanamo has been longer and tougher than Democratic leaders expected, and could signal more determined Republican opposition to other issues on Obama's legislative agenda such as healthcare reform and climate change.

Obama's Democrats control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but Republicans still have managed to put Obama on the defensive over his plan to shut the prison by January. Obama has not detailed his plans for all the detainees.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday succeeded in amending a 2010 homeland security spending bill to bar detainees from coming to U.S. soil except for trial, and to demand a detailed risk assessment for those moved to the United States for any reason.

"Bottom line, we need to know the threat posed by the transfer of these terrorists to the United States, should that occur," said Republican Representative Harold Rogers, the author of the amendment.

Despite Republican pressure, Democrats have managed to secure agreement that the detainees may come to the United States for trial. However, the Washington Post reported that Obama has given up on trying to resettle detainees in the United States who will not face criminal charges.

A HEADACHE FOR OBAMA

The Guantanamo fight has been a headache for Obama and congressional Democrats, who have been forced to accept some limits sought by Republicans in part for fear that they could be seen as soft on security.

The House and Senate next week are expected to approve a war funding bill that omits $80 million that Obama wanted to begin closing the prison and sets strict limits on detainee movements through Sept. 30.

The administration has been transferring detainees before limits are set, sending one to New York for trial and six others to be resettled in Bermuda, Iraq and Chad. Some Republicans say Obama is trying to beat the clock.

"How, in all good conscience, can the administration ignore the requirements that they know are coming and proceed to release and transfer detainees?" Rogers asked.

Democrats say Republican maneuvers may complicate efforts to bring detainees to trial. They also say U.S. prisons are capable of holding even the most dangerous of the detainees.

"I have no question that we can handle these folks being in our system," said Democratic Representative John Murtha, a leading voice on defense matters.

(Editing by Will Dunham)




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