Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s bill that would further restrict the transfer or release of Guantanamo Bay detainees by the Obama administration was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, but President Obama’s spokesman immediately said he would veto the legislation.
The committee vote was 14-12, strictly along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, voting against. The bill now moves to possible consideration by the full Senate.
While Ayotte welcomed the vote, The Associated Press reported that as the committee deliberated, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One, “Our position is that the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay weakens our national security and must be closed. We believe this bill puts more constraints on a process that should be actually working faster. And so we oppose this legislation and the president would veto it.”
The bill extends for the remaining two years of Obama’s term in office a prohibition on transfers to the United States of current Guantanamo detainees and allows new detainees to be placed in the facility. It also suspends for two years transfers of detainees who have been assessed as a high or medium risk to the United States, its interests and allies.
It also prohibits for two years the transfer of any detainees to Yemen, but allows international transfer of low risk detainees.
Ayotte’s office says the bill also “increases transparency by requiring an unclassified report from the Secretary of Defense providing details about the previous terrorist activities of detainees who remain at Guantanamo.”
Ayotte said in a statement, “I am pleased that the Senate Armed Services Committee passed our legislation that would suspend transfers of the most dangerous Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries, prevent the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, and require greater transparency with the American people.
“When the administration transfers a Guantanamo detainee, especially those formerly assessed as a high or medium risk for re-engagement in terrorism, the onus is on the administration to explain openly to the American people what has changed, particularly when nearly 30 percent of former Guantanamo detainees are suspected or confirmed of reengaging in terrorism. It is a simple matter of transparency and honesty with the American people. I look forward to the consideration of our legislation by the full Senate.”
According to The AP, when Obama took office six years ago, there were 242 detainees at Guantanamo. Today there are 122. Of those, 54 are eligible for transfer, 10 are being prosecuted or have been sentenced and the cases of the other 58 are being reviewed.
The panel adopted three Democratic amendments, including one sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would allow the temporary transfer of a terror suspect to a Defense Department facility in the United States for emergency medical treatment.
The AP report also noted that the committee vote came after the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, for five years.
Ayotte is a leading advocate in the Senate for continued operation of the Guantanamo facility. Her bill had the strong support of committee chairman Sen. John McCain.