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Senate blocks effort to halt facility upgrades in U.S. for Guantanamo detainees

On a mostly party-line vote of 57-43, the Senate defeated a Republican's bid to block spending to upgrade facilities such as the near-empty prison in Illinois proposed to house detainees.

November 17, 2009|By Richard Simon
  • The administration plans to announce that the government will acquire the Thomson Correctional Center to house federal inmates as well as a limited number of detainees.
The administration plans to announce that the government will acquire… (M. Spencer Green /Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — The Democratic-controlled Senate today thwarted an effort to block spending for upgrading facilities in the United States for housing prisoners transferred from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a move that Illinois officials feared could have complicated efforts to place detainees at a prison in their state.

The measure was defeated on a mostly party-line vote of 57-43.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed the restriction as an amendment to a spending bill for military construction and veterans programs, telling his colleagues, "If you want terrorists here, then vote against this amendment."

Opponents assailed it as an attempt to block the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a priority of President Obama.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has touted the jobs and other economic benefits that would be created by housing prisoners at a near-empty prison about 150 miles west of Chicago, read a letter on the Senate floor from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. calling the closing of Guantanamo Bay "in the national security interests of the United States."

"Al Qaeda has repeatedly used the existence of the facility as a recruitment tool," the Obama Cabinet members said of Guantanamo in their letter.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, contended the amendment would "actually make us less secure by restricting our ability to improve security at facilities" that house detainees transferred to the United States from Guantanamo Bay for trial.

Durbin argued that the amendment would not prevent detainees from being transferred to the United States but would bar spending federal funds to tighten security in places such as New York City, where several accused terrorists, including the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are expected to go on trial.

"How much sense does that make?" Durbin asked. "If there is the need to upgrade security so they can be tried in a safe environment with no danger to the people of New York City, we want to spend that money."

richard.simon@latimes.com

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