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Obama Loses Key Potential Republican Ally On Guantanamo Bay Closure

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Tyler Tynes
ATHENA IMAGE © Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said Wednesday he would support suing President Barack Obama if he moves Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.

“Absolutely,” McCain said about supporting a potential House Republican-backed lawsuit against closing Guantanamo. “One of our greatest concerns right now is the president’s proclivity to act by executive order, whether it’s constitutional or not. Clearly if he did that, he would be in direct violation of provisions of the NDAA,” he continued, referring to the annual defense spending bill that includes amendments barring the president from moving detainees state-side. “We would absolutely join one. But we would act as quickly as possible.”

Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, including McCain, the committee's chair, and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), slammed the plan the Pentagon released Tuesday, outlining a proposal to close the detention facility by transferring as many detainees as possible to third-party countries and moving the remaining individuals -- thought to be between 30 and 60 -- to a facility in the U.S.  

The Pentagon’s plan, however, failed to solve the conflict between Obama’s promised aspirations to close the detention center and the Congressionally-imposed ban on moving detainees to the U.S.

McCain wants the Pentagon's plan to contain more specifics. He said he wants to know where the administration plans to relocate the detainees, and which locations it has looked at that could replace Guantanamo. He criticized the report for lacking detail on modifications and costs of a new facility, and noted that there was no policy on current detainees and future detainees, or where pending military commissions would take place.

Ayotte called for a specific plan on where and how the military will interrogate and detain future “terrorists” captured on the battlefield for what she claimed was for the betterment of the American people and a notion her constituents in New Hampshire agreed with.

The senators' overall complaint was that what the Obama administration released wasn't a plan, but rather, a few pages of facts and -- really, as McCain put it -- just a wish list.

“I’ve been waiting seven and a half years for a plan in order for us to facilitate the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I’m still waiting,” McCain said. “This is not a plan. This is an eight page document, seven pages of which are rehash and the last page is basically platitude.”

Graham echoed McCain’s criticisms, calling the Pentagon’s proposal a “joke.”

“There was a time when Senator McCain and myself would have stood with the president to close this facility and open up a new one inside the United States that adheres to our values and recognizes we are at war. That time period has passed and it’s unfortunate. The president could never pull the trigger,” Graham continued.

McCain and Graham were some of the earliest Republican supporters of closing Guantanamo. Graham authored a potential bargain proposal in 2009 just after Obama entered office and McCain led a similar effort last year.

Blaming Obama’s lack of a realistic plan, but likely bolstered by increasingly partisan politics on Guantanamo during an election year, McCain and Graham have both rolled back their support.

While the Pentagon’s plan envisioned working with Congress to find a way to transfer the 30 to 60 prisoners who will not be sent abroad to a U.S. facility, it appears unlikely that congressional Republicans will be willing to undo the legal restrictions.

If Congress doesn't budge, Obama hasn’t ruled out bypassing it and using his executive authority to close the prison -- but at the risk of inviting a lawsuit from Republicans.

On the other side of the Hill Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters that the House was making “legal preparations” if Obama moves forward with his attempt to close Guantanamo Bay.

“What boggles my mind is that the president is contemplating directing the military to knowingly break the law,” he said. “By the way, Democrats wrote this law when they were the majority, when they ran Congress,” Ryan continued, glossing over the fact that the restrictions were included as amendments for a compromise on a must-pass spending bill.

Jessica Schulberg contributed to this report.

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