WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by early 2010 drew a crushing Senate rejection on Wednesday as well as a tough FBI warning over moving any detainees to US soil.
Obama's Democratic allies joined Republican critics in a lopsided vote that stripped 80-million-dollar he requested for shutting the facility from a 91.3-billion-dollar bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to October 1.
The vote also blocked using any of the other money to transfer any of the 240 detainees from 30 countries held at the fortified US naval base on Cuba's southeastern coast, a global symbol of US "war on terrorism" excesses.
The Obama administration "should have focused on a plan for these terrorists first. Once it has one, we'll consider closing Guantanamo, but not a second sooner," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
FBI Director Robert Mueller dealt another blow to Obama's goal of shutting the prison by a self-imposed January 22, 2010 deadline, challenging Democratic assertions that maximum-security US prisons can safely hold accused terrorists.
"The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, radicalizing others with regard to violent extremism, the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States," he said.
The threat of Guantanamo detainees radicalizing others would apply even if they were held in supermaximum-security "supermax" prisons on the US mainland, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicated.
Democrats noted that Al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and a host of other convicted terrorists have been held without incident at "supermax" prisons, where they are typically held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
Mueller drew a comparison to high-level gang members who run their criminal enterprises from behind bars, saying: "While there may not be the opportunity to escape, there may still be the risk, as we've seen, (of them) operating."
His comments to the House Judiciary Committee echoed Republican complaints and were bound to fuel what polls suggest is deep resistance from the US public to moving the detainees to the United States.
The White House has promised Obama will reveal details of his plans for the detainees in a speech Thursday on national security, while the Pentagon has said lawmakers were making it "exceedingly difficult" to meet his deadline.
"The president hasn't decided where some of the detainees will be transferred," said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, who insisted that the 2010 timeline still stood.
"The president understands that there aren't any easy decisions in this, but he's going to continue to work in this administration and work with this Congress in order to fulfill the promise that he made," said Gibbs.
But just a handful of Democrats voted against blocking the detainees' transfer, an issue that galvanized Republicans who had been reeling from their successive election losses in 2006 and 2008.
Republicans made "not a whimper or a peep" when they held the White House and president George W. Bush released Guantanamo Bay detainees who went on to attack US forces, charged Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat.
"Now that president Obama has said the days at Guantanamo are numbered, they're coming in asking for detailed accounting of every single detainee," he said. "It's clearly a double standard."
Some Republicans said they favored closing the prison, while warning that some of the suspected high-ranking Al-Qaeda terrorists held there may never face trial or be freed lest they return to violence.
"Some of these people, literally, are going to die in jail," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a former military lawyer and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I will not shed a tear."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »