[JURIST] President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees [press release] to the US for trial. The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 [HR 6523] authorizes funding for defense interests abroad, military construction and national security-related energy programs. However, sections 1032 and 1033 [text, PDF] impose significant setbacks to the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline [JURIST report] for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Specifically, section 1032 bars the use of funds to transfer detainees into the US and section 1033 bars the use of funds to transfer detainees to the custody of foreign countries unless specified conditions are met. President Obama voiced his reluctance in signing the bill:
The prosecution of terrorists in Federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation and must be among the options available to us. Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security…We must have the ability to act swiftly and to have broad flexibility in conducting our negotiations with foreign countries…Requiring the executive branch to certify to additional conditions would hinder the conduct of delicate negotiations with foreign countries and therefore the effort to conclude detainee transfers in accord with our national security…Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my Administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this Act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011.
The administration plans to seek the repeal of these restrictions and opposes the extension or expansion of them in the future.
The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite running into several hurdles in closing the prison, including opposition from members of Congress and the suspension of detainee transfers to Yemen [JURIST report]. In May, the US House Armed Services Committee [official website] approved [JURIST report] the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 [text, PDF] prohibiting the Obama administration from modifying or building a facility in the US to hold detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay. In November, the US Senate [official website] defeated a measure which would have placed similar restrictions [JURIST report] into the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act [text, PDF; HR 3082 materials]. In June 2009, the US House denied [JURIST report] an Obama administration request for $60 million to fund the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and required the president to submit a detailed plan to Congress documenting the costs and risks of transferring a detainee to the US for trial or detention at least two months before the detainee is to be transferred. The number of detainees at Guantanamo has been significantly reduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees to a growing list of countries including Germany, Italy, Spain, Maldives, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan and Bermuda [JURIST reports]. There are currently 178 detainees awaiting transfer from Guantanamo.