WASHINGTON — A bill by Senate Democrats would fund the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it would block the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States.
The move is aimed at sidestepping a political minefield that President Obama has confronted in his promise to close the military prison during his first year in office. Lawmakers of both parties have bristled at the notion of bringing Guantanamo terrorism suspects to detention facilities in the United States.
The development comes as the full House and a key Senate panel are poised to advance Obama's $85-billion request for military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The request for $50 million to close the Guantanamo prison and transfer its detainees elsewhere has occupied many lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- even as others in Congress voice growing worries about the chances of defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The administration has yet to produce a plan for dealing with the approximately 240 Guantanamo detainees, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said that between 50 and 100 would end up in U.S. facilities.
The $96.7-billion measure headed for a House vote today contains no funds to transfer the Guantanamo detainees, though the Pentagon retains the ability to seek informal approval to move funds from other accounts.
But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday circulated an approximately $91.5-billion measure that includes $50 million to shutter the Guantanamo facility and move its prisoners -- with the proviso that they can't be sent to the United States. The Senate bill appears to favor paying foreign governments to accept the prisoners.
House Democratic leaders weighed in with a plan that would block any release of Guantanamo detainees within the United States but that would allow them to be shipped to the U.S. to stand trial or to serve their sentences.