Congress won't try to keep Guantanamo detainees out of U.S. — for now

McClatchy NewspapersJune 12, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators have agreed to drop amendments to a supplemental approrpiations bill that would have banned the release of photos depicting alleged detainee abuse and would have restricted bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States.

The agreement on those issues should speed passage of the bill, which provides $79.9 billion for the Pentagon to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $10.4 billion would go to the State Department and other “international affairs and stabilization” efforts in Pakistan.

The agreement came after President Barack Obama wrote a five-paragraph letter promising to fight to prevent disclosure of the photos. The letter noted that an appeals court on Thursday agreed to stay a lower court ruling ordering the photos release so that the Obama administration could appeal to the Supreme Court.

Many House Democrats wanted the right to release the photos. Senate Republicans and Democrats had voted unanimously to keep them secret.

In his letter, Obama wrote the appropriations commttee chairmen that while he opposed a legislative ban, he could "assure you that I will continue to take every legal and administrative remedy available to me to ensure the DoD (Defense Department) detainee photographs are not released.

"Should a legislative solution prove necessary," he wrote, "I am committed to working with the Congress to enact legislation that achieves the objectives we share."

He said, though, he would oppose a legislative ban at the moment so that the bill could move through Congress. Passage of the ban, he said, “would unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops and would accomplish no substantive purpose.”

The agreement to drop the amendment on transferring detainees to the U.S. gives Obama four months to order detainees at Guantanamo into the United States for trial. By then, Congress hopes Obama will come up with a plan for closing the detention facility.

Obama already has transferred one detainee to the U.S. for trial. Pressure for the amendment eased Thursday after Bermuda took in four of 17 Uighur detainees whom a federal district judge had ordered released and the Pacific island nation of Palau agreed to take at least some of the remainder. The Uighurs, who are from China, had been considered the most likely Guantanamo detainees to be resettled in the United States.

In addition the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and assistance to Pakistan, the bill includes $7.7 billion to help ease the flu pandemic and another $1 billion for a “cash for clunkers” program that would encourage consumers to trade in old gas guzzling vehicles for more fuel efficient ones.

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