The House on Thursday passed a bill banning transfers from Guantanamo Bay for the remainder of Obama’s presidency, in a move that Democrats said is “probably unconstitutional and certainly immoral.”
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., passed the House by a 244-174 vote. It would prohibit the transfer of any detainees from Guantanamo Bay until the next administration takes office or until the passage of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, whichever comes first. Twelve Democrats voted for the bill. Four Republicans voted against it.
Walorski told the Washington Examiner ahead of the vote that her next priority will be urging the Senate to pass a similar version, where it was introduced by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. If the bill is to become law, Republicans will also have to gather enough support to override a veto threatened by the Obama administration.
Republicans argued that releasing detainees from Guantanamo Bay puts the nation’s national security at risk if detainees engage in terrorism following their transfer. Bolstering their argument on Wednesday night, two detainees released by Obama this year were confirmed to have engaged in terrorism.
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Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., however, made the case more personal. She talked about Christopher Stark, one of her constituents who died from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Hartzler said on the House floor that she was dismayed when she heard about the release of a detainee who had manufactured IEDs like the one that killed Stark.
“[This bill] protects our troops, prevents further attacks on our families, and, just as importantly, ensures justice is served for those, like Christopher Stark, who gave their last full measure of devotion for our country,” Hartzler said.
There are 61 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay. Twenty of those have been cleared for release.
Democrats argued that holding those 20, which a panel of defense and national security experts have determined do not pose a threat after a vetting process, is contrary to the values of the American justice system.
“To say, ‘Look, sorry, we’re just going to hold you because we want to,’ is really a violation of the Constitution and the due process of law,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“We are not a dictatorship, we are not a country like Saddam Hussein used to run where he used to lock people up because he wanted to,” Smith said.