On February 12th the Senate Armed Forces Committee approved, 14 to 12, S.165 (Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015). This bill “would (a) reinstate more restrictive standards for sending detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to third countries; (b) extend rules barring the movement of prisoners to the mainland United States for two years, until after Obama steps down in early 2017; and (c) impose a two-year suspension on the transfer of any detainees ever categorized by the United States as posing a high or medium risk to the United States or its allies.”
The Committee’s press release stated that it had approved three amendments to the bill proposed by three of its Democratic members: (1) codification of the lawful procedures already in place to ensure that detainees are treated humanely (Sen. Kaine); (2) promotion of transparency by requiring a report about the use of Department of Defense facilities, including Guantanamo Bay, and Bureau of Prisons facilities as terrorist propaganda tools and explaining whether this propaganda is effective and what the administration is doing to counter it (Sen. McCaskill); and (3) allowance of temporary transfer of a detainee to a Department of Defense facility in the U.S. for emergency or critical medical treatment (Sen. Reed).
This press release does not identify who cast the 14 to 12 votes on the bill, but as the Committee has 14 Republican and 12 Democratic members, it is safe to assume that the voting was on party lines.
On February 23rd the Senate Committee favorably reported S.165 with amendments to the Senate, and it was placed on the Senate’s Legislative Calendar.
The companion bill in the House (H.R.401: Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015) was referred to its Armed Service Committee, which has 36 Republican and 27 Democratic members, including John Kline (Rep., MN) and Tim Walz (Dem., MN). On February 12th its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on detainee transfers from GITMO.
President Obama has indicated that he would veto such a bill if it passes both chambers of the Congress. Presumably his overriding interest is fulfilling his commitment at the start of his presidency to close the prison at Guantanamo. It is highly unlikely that any effort to override such a veto could get the constitutionally required two-thirds votes in both chambers of Congress.
This measure also complicates the reconciliation with Cuba because there are various unresolved issues regarding Guantanamo with Cuba, including its request or demand for the cancellation of its lease in perpetuity of this part of the island to the U.S. and the return of same to Cuba’s control.