Obama's Guantanamo cash request is rejected

Top Democrats have rejected a request from the President for $80m to close the controversial detention centre.

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WASHINGTON // Top Democrats in the US House of Representatives have rejected a request by Barack Obama for US$80 million (Dh294m) to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, saying they will not allocate the funds until the administration presents a specific plan for the detainees there. A supplemental war funding request sent by the US president to Capitol Hill last month included $50m for the defence department and $30m for the justice department to start the process of shutting down the military facility in Cuba. But David Obey, the powerful chairman of the House appropriations committee, dropped the money from that chamber's version of the bill, saying he wanted to see a detailed plan before doling out the funds. "When they have a plan, they're welcome to come back and talk to us about it," Mr Obey said of administration officials. In January Mr Obama ordered that Guantanamo close within a year and launched a comprehensive multi-agency review of what to do with its approximately 240 remaining prisoners, some of whom have been cleared for release and others who may yet be brought to trial. The Senate is expected to consider the funding request this week ; the top Democrat there, Harry Reid, has suggested he may include the money for Guantanamo but make it contingent on the Obama administration providing more specific plans. The House and Senate would then have to hammer out their differences. The funding issue aside, Mr Obama's high-profile effort to close the facility has been met with resistance from members of both political parties who, anticipating a public outcry from their constituents, do not want Guantanamo prisoners moved to prisons in their states or released into their communities - even if the US government now says they are not dangerous.

"I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying, 'Not in my district, not in my state'," Robert Gates, the defence secretary, testified recently on the Hill, referring to the total number of legislators in Congress. One of those pieces of legislation - the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act - was introduced on Thursday by a group of House Republicans. It would prevent detainees from being transferred to any state unless that state's governor and legislature approve the move ahead of time. "Putting these people in the middle of our communities puts those communities at risk and puts the people who work at those facilities at risk," Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee and a sponsor of the bill, said at a news conference. Eric Holder, the attorney general, recently testified that the administration would not, in deciding whether and where to transfer or release the detainees, "put at risk the safety of the people of this country". Washington has been pressing other countries to take some of the men cleared for release, but officials know it is easier to make that case if the United States itself will accept some - which to date it has not. Among the most likely to be released into the US are some, or all, of the 17 Chinese Uighurs held for years at Guantanamo, who cannot be returned to their home country because of safety concerns. Cleared by the US of being "enemy combatants", they were ordered to be released in October by a federal district court, but that decision was overturned on appeal in February. Reports that Mr Obama might soon order the Uighurs to be released himself prompted Frank Wolf, a Republican congressman from Virginia, where there is a local Uighur community offering to help resettle the men, to write to the president detailing his "profound reservations". "Let's be clear: these terrorists would not be held in prisons but released into neighbourhoods," Mr Wolf said recently on the House floor. "They should not be released at all into the United States. Do members [of Congress] realise who these people are?" eniedowski@thenational.ae