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House GOP defense bill blocks Guantanamo closing

Tuesday - 6/4/2013, 3:28am  ET

FILE - In this April 11, 2013 file photo, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif. listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rebuffing President Barack Obama’s latest plea, House Republicans would keep open the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by barring the administration from spending money to transfer terror suspects to the US or a foreign country such as Yemen. The provisions dealing with the fate of the 166 prisoners are part of a defense policy bill drafted by McKeon, R-Calif. The chairman released the bill Monday, two days before Republicans and Democrats on the committee will vote on the measure. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

RICHARD LARDNER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rebuffing President Barack Obama's latest plea, House Republicans on Monday proposed keeping open the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by barring the administration from transferring its terror suspects to the United States or a foreign country such as Yemen.

The provisions dealing with the fate of the remaining 166 prisoners are part of a defense policy bill drafted by Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif. The chairman released the bill Monday, two days before Republicans and Democrats on the committee will vote on it.

Overall, the bill would authorize $638 billion for the military in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, including $86 billion for war costs. The committee responded to concerns that the military was headed toward a readiness crisis due to automatic spending cuts by adding nearly $5 billion beyond the president's budget request for training programs, equipment maintenance, spare parts and more.

The final bill is likely to include additional provisions addressing the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military, missile defense and weapons programs, with most reflecting the will of Republicans who control the House. The full chamber is expected to vote on the bill this summer and then work out differences when the Democratic-run Senate passes its version.

"The bill restores vital readiness programs, invests in capabilities to meet the threats of the future, and supports our troops and their families," McKeon said in a statement.

Addressing a range of policy issues, the chairman's legislation would block the U.S. from spending $2.6 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces until the Defense and State departments have certified to Congress that the two countries have a bilateral security agreement governing the presence of U.S. forces there after the current combat mission ends in 2014.

McKeon's bill also urges the Obama administration to "fully consider all courses of action" to remove President Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime from power. The legislation does not endorse providing weapons to the rebel forces in Syria, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did last month.

Less than two weeks ago, Obama renewed his 2008 campaign promise to close the Guantanamo prison. He argued that the indefinite detentions with little prospect of charges or a trial flouts the rule of law and said terrorists have used the naval detention center as a recruiting tool.

"Given my administration's relentless pursuit of al-Qaida's leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened," Obama said May 23 in a speech at the National Defense University.

Obama lifted the moratorium on transferring prisoners to Yemen and said their status would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In Yemen this past weekend, officials said they were moving ahead on a facility to house any transfers from Guantanamo.

"To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee," the president said.

Republicans and several Democrats have repeatedly stymied the president's past efforts to close Guantanamo or transfer prisoners.

McKeon has said he is open to a proposal to close Guantanamo, but like other Republicans has criticized the White House for lacking a workable plan for what to do with the detainees there and where terrorists captured in the future would be housed.

The bill would keep the naval detention center open by prohibiting the Defense Department from spending any money to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house terror suspects from Guantanamo. The restriction would apply from the bill's enactment through 2014.

It also would bar the Pentagon from spending any money to transfer prisoners to the United States or a foreign country. The bill provides a waiver, but the Defense Department would have to make several certifications to Congress.

Although Obama has pressed to close Guantanamo, the Pentagon in its latest budget request is seeking $450 million for it, including millions for upgrading the temporary facility and $40 million for a fiber optic cable. Past budgets have reflected the Washington contradiction of Obama waging a political fight to shutter the facility while the military calculates the financial requirements to keep the installation operating.

In his speech, Obama said Guantanamo makes no sense in a time of deficit-driven budget cuts as the United States spends $150 million each year on 166 prisoners -- almost $1 million per prisoner.

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