The U.S. Senate gave its support on Tuesday to the easing of restrictions on the transfer of prisoners from the base at Guantanamo Bay, an important step toward the eventual closure of the prison, promised in vain by Barack Obama since 2009.
The senators are examining the National Defense Authorization Act this week, including several articles that would lift restrictions put in place for several years by Congress to prevent the release or transfer of detainees to the United States or abroad.
On Tuesday, during two votes on amendments to this text, the senators retained these articles as they were.
After his election and again this year, Barack Obama promised to close the controversial prison, where164 prisoners still live — the vast majority of whom have never been charged or brought to justice. The majority (84) do not represent a risk to national security, according to the administration. Most are of Yemeni nationality.
The Democrats, who hold the majority in the Senate, want to authorize the transfer of prisoners to the United States for treatment, trial or detention. Currently, the Guantanamo prisoners cannot legally be transferred to United States territory.
Other measures would allow the transfer to foreign countries of those inmates who do not represent a risk to national security, on the condition that adequate measures have been taken to reduce the risk that they’ll engage in activities deemed "terrorist," which leaves more discretion to the secretary of defense than the present act.
But the Republicans intend to maintain strict prohibitions, leaving no other choice to the administration than to keep the detainees on the base indefinitely.
"Keep the laws in place,"* implored Republican Kelly Ayotte. "Why would we send Khaled Sheikh Mohammed to the United States when we have one of the most secure detention facilities in Guantanamo?"** she added, referring to the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
In June, the House of Representatives adopted a measure that would prohibit — purely and simply — any transfer [of detainees] to Yemen. A total of 88 Yemenis are currently located in Guantanamo Bay, of which 56 are considered releasable.
The Senate could adopt the entire text of defense, including the easing of rules on Guantanamo, by the end of the week.
The true battle will then take place during a phase of negotiations between the House and the Senate to harmonize the two versions. The leaders of Congress hope for a final adoption by the end of the year.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
**Editor’s note: While accurately translated, the original quotation by Senator Ayotte is as follows: “Why would we want the most dangerous terrorists in the world to come to America when we have one of the most secure detention facilities in Guantanamo?”