Congress rejects Guantánamo U.S. transfer-to-close concept

The Capitol is seen at dusk in Washington on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014.
The Capitol is seen at dusk in Washington on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress has once again prevented President Barack Obama from moving any of the last 142 captives at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States — thwarting a continuing White House bid to empty the war-on-terror detention center, and close it down.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Monday that the final annual Defense policy bill omits a provision giving the president the authority to transfer captives the United States if Congress signs off on a comprehensive plan to close the prison.

Levin had pushed for the authority and hailed it in May as creating “a path to close Guantánamo.” With lawmakers rushing to complete the defense bill in this month’s lame-duck session, Levin said proponents were unable to prevail.

“Our language … (on Guantánamo) … will not be in,” Levin said.

The House and Senate are expected to vote and overwhelmingly approve the sweeping policy bill in the coming days, sending it to Obama.

The president has pushed to close the post-9/11 prison since his inauguration in January 2009. He has faced strong resistance from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress who don’t want terror suspects housed in U.S. facilities and have warned of suspects returning to the fight when they are transferred back to their home countries.

At the detention center itself, more than 2,000 U.S. troops and civilians are assigned to the temporary detention center currently holding 142 captives, 73 of them cleared to go.

In its version of the defense bill in May, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision that would authorize the transfer of terror suspects to U.S. soil “for detention, trial and incarceration, subject to stringent security measures and legal protections, once the president has submitted a plan to Congress for closing Guantánamo and Congress has had an opportunity to vote to disapprove that plan under expedited procedures.”

The House version of the defense bill prohibited the transfer to U.S. soil, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have repeatedly and successfully fought White House efforts to move detainees prevailed in the final version of the defense bill.