Congressional Democrats are hoping to use this year's defense spending bill to close the controversial detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but are facing an uphill fight.
"I'm sure it's not going to happen," Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill, adding "no rational person's going to support that. It's an absolutely vital institution."
One thousand Marines from Camp Lejune in North Carolina were dispatched in 2002 to quickly build the detention facility after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as a place to "detain" suspected terrorists awaiting either trials in the United States or in front of military tribunals, according to Military.com.
Since it opened, the facility has been at the center of accusations of human-rights violations and the torturing of prisoners with "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding.
"The speed of Guantanamo's creation and the urgency to gain information had bad consequences," Ret. Major Gen. Michael Lehnert, who was in charge of building the facility, testified to Congress in December 2021. "The legal ambiguities that make Guantanamo an attractive choice for some policymakers sets up extra challenges for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who must execute those policies. The subsequent decision to subject detainees to enhanced interrogation techniques and to avoid application of the Geneva Conventions except when it suited us cost us international support and aided our enemies."
Former President Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden promised during their respective campaigns to close the facility, but neither has succeeded.
According to the Hill's article, House Democrats are again pushing to shut down the facility through the annual defense spending bill, which could pass in that chamber despite a thin majority but will likely die in the Senate where some GOP support would be needed.
"They have such slim majorities right now," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told The Hill. "It's difficult for them to do anything … So, getting something that controversial done is just, as a practical matter, not going to happen."
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., told the publication that spending the annual $540 million on running the facility is not a good use of taxpayer dollars, which could used more effectively elsewhere in the defense budget.
"I'm going to work hard in conference committee," said McCollum, chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense. "It's not a good use of taxpayers' money, and if we need more money for defense, it should go to things that are going to make a difference in our national security."
A roadblock to closing the detention facility for good is the threat the 39 still incarcerated there could pose if released.
The New York Post reported in 2021 that many of those who have been released have gone back to their militant activities and continue to kill Americans.
"Based on trends identified during the past 17 years, we assess that some detainees currently at GTMO will seek to reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities after they are transferred," the Post reported a recent US intelligence report warning at the time.
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