Obama signs Guantánamo bill
WASHINGTON – United States President Barack Obama has reluctantly signed into law a military-funding bill that limits him from transferring terrorism detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the US or foreign countries.
But Obama signaled that he may get past the restrictions by using non-Pentagon resources to get the job done.
The bill, H.R. 6523, which authorises the funding for all military activities of the United States for fiscal year 2011, includes a provision that prohibits the use of funds, authorised by the law, to transfer detainees from the detention facility into the United States.
Obama called the provision “a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantánamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests”.
The President said the option to try terrorists in federal court was necessary to preserve, adding that any attempt to take it away “undermines our nation’s counter-terrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security”.
It wasn’t immediately clear to what degree Obama still may capitulate to political pressure between now and his 2012 re-election campaign to keep detainees off US soil and out of civilian courts.
The development also left uncertain what Attorney General Eric Holder would do about the trial of alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Guantánamo captives, who allegedly were the plotters, funders and trainers of the hijackers of four commercial aircraft on September 11, 2001.
Holder initially wanted to prosecute them in US federal court in lower Manhattan, not far from Ground Zero, a choice that angered conservatives and some victims’ families.
Obama also criticised a provision that would add new hurdles to using defense funds to transfer detainees to the custody of foreign countries.
He said such certification requirements “would hinder the conduct of delicate negotiations with foreign countries and therefore the effort to conclude detainee transfers in accord with our national security”.
Obama said his team will seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future.
The US said 173 captives from 24 nations are currently confined in the sprawling Caribbean Sea front compound, with only three of them convicted of war crimes.
The other 600 captives once held at Guantánamo have been released, with one-fourth confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism or insurgent activities.
One of Obama’s earliest executive orders was to order the prison camps in Cuba closed by January 22, 2010.
But White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters last week that there were now no immediate plans to close the camps, reiterating that the controversial detention center is an al Qaeda “recruiting tool.” (CMC)