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Tuesday Brings Good (Yes, Good) Guantánamo News in Congress

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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November 17, 2009

Earlier this afternoon, the Senate voted to table (a fancy word for defeating) an amendment that was proposed by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to the military construction appropriations bill. The Inhofe Amendment would have prohibited the Department of Defense from using any funds under the bill to modify or construct any facilities in the U.S. to hold any of the Guantánamo detainees, including those charged, tried, or convicted in regular federal courts.

The ACLU, as well as a number of coalition partners, wrote to the Senate urging the defeat of this fear-mongering amendment. Had it passed, it would have greatly impeded the ability of Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute Guantánamo detainees in our tried-and-true federal criminal courts. Additionally, it would have put front-line law enforcement and corrections officials at needless risk by eliminating the ability to enhance security or communications at facilities holding detainees during their trials.

The defeat of the Inhofe Amendment, along with the Graham Amendment two weeks ago, represent important congressional victories for the rule of law and our Constitution.

Equally heartening was a statement signed by several prominent conservatives including Bob Barr, David Keene and Grover Norquist in which they support the closing of Guantánamo, as well as the decision to prosecute detainees in regular federal courts. They write:

Civilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases. Civilian prisons are the safe, cost effective and appropriate venue to hold persons convicted in federal courts. Over the last two decades, federal courts constituted under Article III of the U.S. Constitution have proven capable trying a wide array of terrorism cases, without sacrificing either national security or fair trail standards.

While we’ll still likely see attempts in Congress to hamper efforts to close Guantánamo and restore the rule of law by bringing detainees to trial in federal criminal court , the recent victories, as well as the ever-broadening array of voices in support, offer cause for hope.

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