U.S. News

House backs Guantanamo prisoner transfer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to allow foreign terrorism suspects from the Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States to face trial.

Detainees participate in an early morning prayer session at Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Deborah Gembara

The 307 to 114 vote removes one of many roadblocks the Obama administration faces as it tries to empty the internationally condemned prison by January.

The measure, included in a $42.8 billion bill to fund the Homeland Security Department, must be passed by the Senate before President Barack Obama can sign it into law.

Republicans had argued that allowing suspects to face trial in U.S. courts could create security risks and extend American legal protections to those who do not deserve them. But their attempt to strip the measure from the spending bill failed.

Obama ordered the detention camp closed on his second day in office and gave officials a year to do it, but they have run into numerous legal, political and diplomatic hurdles.

Not least among those has been Congress, even though Obama’s fellow Democrats control the House and the Senate.

Many lawmakers have objected to plans to house terrorism suspects in U.S. prisons, worrying that they could invite additional terrorist attacks.

The prison has been condemned worldwide for harsh interrogations that took place there, and administration officials have argued that it serves as a recruiting symbol for groups like al Qaeda.

Congress has several times denied the administration funds to shut down the facility until it presents a detailed plan.

The compromise passed by the House would allow the government to bring Guantanamo inmates to U.S. soil only if they are going to face trial in American courts.

The administration would have to present a risk assessment and give 14 days’ notice.

Administration officials might face additional restrictions as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham hopes to prevent Guantanamo prisoners suspected of involvement in the September 11, 2001, attacks from being tried in U.S. court.

Roughly 220 prisoners remain in the facility, which was opened at the U.S. naval base in Cuba after the September 11 attacks.

Not all of them will face criminal prosecution. Some could be tried instead in military tribunals, while others who have been cleared of wrongdoing could be resettled in countries willing to take them.

Authorities have already transferred one prisoner, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, to New York for trial on charges of conspiring in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people.

The bill would also allow the Pentagon to block the release of photos showing the abuse of terrorism suspects, which have figured prominently in several scandals.

Editing by Doina Chiacu