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Senate deal could lead to Guantanamo Bay closure

Two congressional committees have agreed to make it easier for the Pentagon to transfer Guantanamo Bay prisoners to their home countries, surpassing a major hurdle in the Obama administration’s ability to close the facility.

The Senate and House Armed Services committees compromised to  find common ground on the National Defense Authorization Act  (NDAA) of 2014. While this iteration of the NDAA is still a mere  proposal, it would greatly expand the power of the executive  branch by authorizing the President to transfer Guantanamo  inmates from the Cuban prison base, while maintaining the  prohibition on bringing them into the United States.

Dozens of the 164 detainees still in custody have been cleared  for transfer to Yemen, yet have been held at Gitmo because of the  legal stipulation preventing their return home. The proposed  version of the NDAA would grant this transfer, but then require  the Obama administration to report on whether the Yemeni  government prosecuted, detain, or freed the men in question.

Today, Congress took one step forward and one step back on  Guantanamo,” Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty  International USA, told reporters. “The Senate’s provision  that clarifies transfers to other countries is an important and  welcome one that President Obama must leverage as soon as  possible. However, the House’s restriction on transfers to the  US, even for trial or medical treatment, is a terrible blow for  human rights. President Obama must find a solution to end the  Guantanamo crisis.”

The NDAA proposal also forbids the use of Defense Department  money to build or update any of the military structures used to  house inmates through 2014. The military will not be granted any  funds to do so, squashing a reported military request for nearly  $200 million to construct a new building.

It’s a very good development that the Defense Department can  step up its efforts to resettle and repatriate the vast majority  of detainees who have never been charged with a crime,”   American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel Chris  Anders told the Huffington Post. “It’s certainly a big step  in the right direction, but certainly more needs to be  done.”

The congressional agreement comes as a fresh round of scrutiny is  being heaped upon Guantanamo policies. A federal appeals court  wondered on Monday whether it was necessary for prison guards to  search the genital areas of detainees who wish to meet with their  lawyers.

That’s rather provocative and offensive, isn’t it?”   Judge Thomas Griffith, an appointee of President George W. Bush,  asked a government lawyer during proceedings on the matter.  Griffith added that the authorities have a “special  obligation” to make sure defendants are permitted to freely  communicate with their attorneys.

It’s not as bad as it sounds,” replied Justice  Department attorney Edward Himmelfarb, comparing the process to a  TSA security screening at one of the nation’s airports.BPH550x110

Defense attorneys have accused Guantanamo staff of impeding  counsel often in the past (alleging that privileged conversations  were monitored, among other accusations), yet the Justice  Department claimed Monday that the genital searches were a  necessary security measure.

Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland, admitting that images taken of  the contraband taken from inmates “certainly look like  weapons,” asked what would follow if Guantanamo officials  announced that the searches were motivated by a desire to impede  the defense’s progress.

It would certainly be a very difficult case if that was the  only motive,” Himmelfarb replied.


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