WASHINGTON - Up to half the terror suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay could be closer to heading home under a bipartisan deal reached in Congress that gives President Obama a rare victory in his fight to close the prison.
The deal would lift the most rigid restrictions Congress previously imposed on detainee transfers overseas and is part of a broad compromise defense bill awaiting final passage in the Senate this week. The House approved the measure last Thursday.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D., Mich.) said the compromise could have a dramatic impact on the 160 detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"About half of the detainees would be detainees that could be transferred to their third-world countries from which they come," Levin told reporters. "About half of the detainees would remain in Guantanamo because of the prohibition on transferring them to the United States for detention and for trial."
The defense bill marks the first time since Obama came to office promising to close Guantanamo that Congress is moving to ease restrictions instead of strengthening them.
Obama's achievement was something of a surprise, after the Republican-controlled House earlier this year voted overwhelmingly to make it harder to transfer detainees. But the deal to move in the opposite direction passed with hardly any opposition and little attention.
Even with the deal, Obama still faces big obstacles to closing Guantanamo.
Congressional proponents of keeping Guantanamo open say they felt they had to allow for transfers to other countries to maintain a more important priority - a ban on detainees from coming into the United States.
"There's no place else you can house these terrorists," said Sen. James J. Inhofe (R., Okla.), who favors keeping the base open and helped work out the compromise.
The commander of
the Guantanamo Bay naval base decided Wednesday to move Nativity scenes from two dining halls after complaints that the decorations promoted Christianity.
The scenes will move to the courtyard of the base chapel, spokeswoman Kelly Wirfel said.
The displays were set up by foreign contractors who manage the dining areas and were "not intended to endorse any religion," Wirfel said in response to concerns raised by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.