In what appears to be a sudden reversal of policy, Congressional leaders on the Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Committee on Wednesday included compromise language in the FY 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations Act that would allow detainees currently held in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to be transferred to the United States for prosecution. Members of the Defense Authorization Conference Committee followed suit on Thursday by agreeing to put language prohibiting the release of detainees in the United States — but leaving other options open — in the FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act. This development comes in the wake of the House of Representatives’ passage last week of a nonbinding resolution forbidding the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to U.S. soil for any purpose.
The compromise, which was attached to the $42.8 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security, represents a significant step toward the Obama Administration’s goal of closing Guantanamo by January 22, 2011. It would prohibit detainees from being released on U.S. soil and would require that the administration notify Congress in advance of its decision to transfer a detainee to another country. Furthermore, the detainees could not be transferred until Congress receives a plan outlining the possible risks, the cost of transfer, and the legal rationale for the transfer. The detainees would be placed on the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list and would not be eligible for immigration benefits.
The compromise language in the bill, however, will likely face stiff opposition from both sides of the aisle when it returns to the full House and Senate for a vote. It also leaves certain questions unresolved, including whether detainees would be allowed to serve prison sentences in U.S. jails or if the administration could indefinitely detain individuals in the United States without charging them. Opponents worry the move would threaten U.S. national security and public safety by turning prisons and local communities into terrorist targets. Proponents counter that U.S. prisons are equipped to house these detainees and that their transfer to American soil would be an important step in rebuilding the United States’ image abroad.
For more information, see articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post. To see the FY 2010 Conference Summary of the Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Committee, please click here.