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The Politics of Gitmo

10:56 AM, Oct 16, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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On October 1, the House voted - by a count of 258 to 163 - in favor of a non-binding resolution that would prevent the Obama administration from transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for any reason. The politics behind the vote were fairly simple. The idea of bringing detainees here is widely unpopular. Every time a new locale is mentioned as a possible venue for housing detainees there is uproar. Clearly, many members of the House, including 88 Democrats, did not want to be on the record saying that they supported the transfer of detainees to the U.S. - even to stand trial. A majority American people don't want it, so there was no reason to go out on a limb.

That was October 1.

However, key Democrats on the Hill voted to include a provision that would allow such transfers in the $42.8 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security. These Democrats wanted the provision passed because it would make it easier for the Obama administration to close Gitmo. The Obama administration wants to bring the detainees here for trials, but it can't do so if it can't transfer them here first. So, the Democrats included the provision in the DHS appropriations bill, knowing that it would be difficult for the provision to be defeated if it were tied to all sorts of other funding that is actually necessary to protect America.

There was one way to make sure the provision would pass, and that was to include it in a massive bill, the bulk of which had nothing to do with Gitmo.

The Republicans tried to fight back. They wanted the provision stripped from the DHS appropriations bill. But the Republican effort to strip the provision was defeated by a vote of 224 to 193. This time, only 25 Democrats (as compared to 88 Democrats on October 1) voted along with the Republicans. Soon afterward the DHS bill was approved in its entirety by a count of 307 to 114.

Those votes took place on October 15 - just two weeks after a majority of House members made it clear that they did not want to be on the record as voting for detainee transfers.

Welcome to the politics of Gitmo.

The Obama administration is pursuing a policy that is unpopular. The Democrat-heavy House wanted to provide cover for this policy, but couldn't without attaching it to other, unrelated measures. That should tell you everything you need to know about what is going on here.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder insists that the Obama administration's task forces are making progress on how to handle the detainees' cases, and it will reach a decision on which detainees will stand trial "by the middle of November."

Got that? The administration still hasn't finalized a plan for dealing with the detainees. It can't even tell Congress which detainees will be brought to the U.S. to stand trial. But, Congress just voted, via a backdoor provision, to allow detainees to be shipped to the U.S. for these trials.

Which detainees has Congress just authorized the administration to bring to the U.S.? They can't tell you because the administration doesn't even know yet.