The House has passed a bill that would halt any further release of the remaining 61 prisoners currently held in Guantanamo Bay prison.
The legislation is not expected to pass in the Senate and is viewed more as a symbolic gesture from Republican lawmakers toward President Barack Obama, who has vowed throughout his two terms to close down the controversial prison.
On Sept. 15, the House passed the bill by a vote of 244 to 174. The legislation would ban the transfer of any Guantanamo prisoners until a new defense policy bill is passed or when the next president assumed office on Jan. 21, 2017, according to The Washington Post.
The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, who has blasted the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to prisons in other countries that she worries “don’t have the facilities, don’t have the wherewithal to keep these people.”
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was founded in January 2002 to detain suspects associated with either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. During the George W. Bush administration, 532 prisoners were released from the prison, while Obama has whittled down the number of detainees to 61, the Miami Herald reports.
Republican lawmakers have been vehemently opposed to Obama’s commitment to closing down the prison, pointing to instances of previously released inmates resuming terrorist activities.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that our president remains willing to continue putting a misguided campaign promise ahead of the national security,” Walorski told Politico.
On Sept. 14, the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) disclosed that two former Guantanamo detainees had returned to militant fighting in 2016, Reuters reports.
The ODNI report found that nine former Guantanamo prisoners have resumed fighting in the Middle East since Obama took office.
The report also noted that 21.2 percent of detainees released during the Bush administration had resumed fighting while only 5.6 percent of detainees released by Obama had followed suit.
House Democrats have criticized Walorski’s bill as just a symbolic gesture to disrespect Obama’s executive authority. Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state noted that there are roughly 16 to 20 prisoners who have been deemed safe to be transferred to other countries.
“Many of these people have been cleared for transfer for years,” Smith said. “This bill would block the ability to do that between now and probably the end of his presidency … I just don’t see why [Obama] should have that power taken away from.”
President Obama sent 15 Guantanamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates in August, the largest single transfer on record. The president has maintained that keeping the prison open hurts America’s moral authority abroad and serves as a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations.
In a news conference during Obama’s September tour of Asia, he asserted that he was still determined to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to shut down the prison.
“I continue to believe that Guantanamo is a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations, that it clouds and sours some of the counter-terrorism cooperation we need to engage in,” Obama said.