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Thursday, September 15, 2016 10:03 pm

House passes block of Gitmo moves

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

The U.S. House approved legislation Thursday introduced by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, that would prevent President Barack Obama from releasing or transferring more suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Republican-controlled House voted 244-174, largely along party lines, to stop the release of the 61 detainees who remain at the U.S. military prison in Cuba, including 20 who have been cleared for transfer.

All seven Republicans from Indiana voted in favor of Walorski’s legislation, and both Hoosier Democrats voted against it.

The White House this week threatened to veto the bill should it reachthe president’s desk.

During floor debate Thursday, Walorski said that the Obama administration has reported that 30 percent of former Guantanamo detainees have engaged in or been suspected of engaging in terrorist activities after their release to other countries. 

In remarks broadcast by C-SPAN, Walorski said Obama "remains willing to continue putting a misguided campaign promise (to close Guantanamo) ahead of the national security."

She said the remaining prisoners "are hardened terrorists. These are al-Qaida bomb-makers, bodyguards, plotters and recruiters," including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Walorski’s bill would ban the release of Guantanamo detainees until either a new defense authorization bill is enacted or Obama leaves office on Jan. 20. Senate and House versions of the defense bill would prohibit Guantanamo releases.

Obama approved the transfer of 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates in August.

During debate Thursday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called Walorksi’s legislation "plainly unconstitutional."

"This bill, the idea that we will keep people in jail for­ever without their having been found guilty of anything, without their having been tried, makes a mockery of the American Constitution," Nadler said in remarks broadcast by C-SPAN.

Nadler said the provision that would halt detainee transfers until Obama’s second term expires "says in effect this president is not really our president for all practical purposes – for every practical purpose. … We’re going to say he can’t do certain things that his successor can do. We’re going to push something in writing only for this president."

According to the advocacy group Human Rights First, 780 people have been held at Guantanamo Bay, with President George W. Bush releasing more than 500 and Obama releasing 177.

Human Rights First was among 14 human rights, civil liberties and religious organizations that sent a letter to House members this week urging them to reject Walorski’s bill.

bfrancisco@jg.net