House Committee Rejects “Guantánamo North”

May 20, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved a ban on funding for modification or construction of U.S. facilities to house Guantánamo detainees late Wednesday night as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The provision would likely block the Obama administration’s plans to use Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois as a facility to continue holding some current Guantánamo detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. There is no bar, however, on using existing facilities for holding detainees awaiting trial or serving post-conviction sentences.

The committee also defeated an amendment offered by Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), which would have blocked all transfers of Guantánamo detainees to the U.S., even for purposes of prosecution. Unfortunately, the bill also extends the notification period for the White House to inform Congress before any detainee is transferred to the U.S. to 120 days from the previous requirement of 45 days. There also are new restrictions on transfers of Guantánamo detainees to foreign countries, but the full text of those provisions is still not publicly available.

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the committee for blocking the funds to construct a U.S. facility that was designated for continuing the Guantánamopolicy of indefinite detention, stating its belief that the remaining Guantánamo detainees should either be prosecuted in federal criminal courts in the U.S. or repatriated or resettled.

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“We are encouraged that the committee has chosen to reject turning the Thomson prison into a ‘Guantánamo North’ that would institutionalize the Guantánamo policy of indefinite detention. By prohibiting funds for modification or construction of a facility to hold these detainees, the committee has created an obstacle for indefinite detention on U.S. soil. Guantánamo must be closed as soon as possible, but in a manner that complies with the rule of law and does not continue the prison’s most troubling and illegal policies.

“American justice demands that if there is sufficient evidence against a detainee, he should be prosecuted and held accountable if found guilty; if not, he should be repatriated or resettled. Guantánamo detainees charged with or convicted of a crime can be imprisoned in some of the same existing U.S. prisons that now hold the more than 400 people who have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses in federal criminal courts over the past nine years. It is long past time to turn the page and restore the rule of law, and we are hopeful that the committee’s vote will serve as a step toward that goal.”

To read a coalition letter sent to the House and Senate last month urging members to oppose legislation authorizing or appropriating federal funds for Thomson, unless indefinite detention without charge or trial is banned there, go to:

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