May 20, 2009 / 9:07 PM / 8 years ago

US Senate denies money for closing Cuba prison

* Senate bars funding to move prisoners to U.S.

* White House says won’t delay plan to close Guantanamo

* Republican to seek vote to also strip out IMF funds (Adds Pentagon, White House comments)

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday denied President Barack Obama $80 million he sought to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, but the White House said that would not delay plans to shut it down by early 2010.

The Senate voted 90-6 to strip the prison money from a $91.3 billion bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also barred the Obama administration from using any funds to bring the detainees held there to U.S. soil through Sept. 30.

In a setback for Obama, his fellow Democrats who control the Senate decided to dump the money after intense Republican criticism that the administration lacked a plan for the detainees and they could be moved to U.S. prisons.

The move could make it more difficult for Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison on the U.S. naval base in Cuba -- one of the most visible legacies of the former Bush administration -- by January 2010.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama’s goal would not necessarily be held up, citing commitments by lawmakers to work with the White House.

"There are a lot of decisions that have to be made and are going to be made going forward," Gibbs told reporters. Lawmakers want to first see a plan for how to handle the detainees before doling out money to close the facility.

Obama plans to address concerns about the prison and U.S. anti-terror policies in a speech on Thursday. Rights groups have criticized him for reversing plans to end military tribunals for detainees and to release prison abuse photos.

"The president hasn’t decided where some of the detainees will be transferred. Again, those are decisions that the task forces are working on and that the president will begin to lay out and discuss tomorrow," Gibbs said.

U.S. MAY HAVE TO KEEP SOME DETAINEES

Republicans have been especially worried about bringing any of the 240 detainees at Guantanamo Bay to U.S. prisons. But a Pentagon official said she expected the United States will have to keep custody of some detainees as it asks other countries to take some in as well.

"I think there will be some that need to end up in the United States. I can’t tell you how many, I can’t tell you where," Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters.

Democrats have pointed out that some individuals convicted on terrorism charges are already held in the United States.

Senators also face another controversial request by Obama: to provide up to $108 billion for the IMF to help countries through the global financial crisis as well as authorize the U.S. representative to the IMF to support the institution’s planned gold sale.

Republican Senator Jim DeMint plans to offer an amendment to drop the IMF provisions, including the funding and support for the IMF’s plan to sell 400 tons of gold to raise more money for operations.

Obama, during the Group of 20 meeting last month, pledged $100 billion for a special IMF lending program for those suffering from the global downturn. He also asked Congress for about $8 billion to increase the U.S. contribution to the IMF.

"There is a bailout fatigue in our country and concern about spending," DeMint told Reuters. "When people realize we’re borrowing another $100 billion probably from China in order to give it to an international fund so they can give it to other countries, I think people are going to be outraged."

DeMint said he did not know if he could win the vote. Because the IMF aid is essentially extending credit lines, congressional budget advisers have said lawmakers only needed to appropriate $5 billion in the legislation. (additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Eric Beech)




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