Republican candidates join 13 fellow senators in urging president to reverse closure policy following capture of alleged Isis chemical weapons chief
Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have joined 13 other GOP senators to introduce a Senate resolution calling on Barack Obama to change nearly eight years of policy and open Guantnamo Bay to new detainees captured from the Islamic State.
The move follows the capture of Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, a man described as Isiss chemical weapons chief, whose apprehension has reignited the political controversy over the future of the detention facility.
Hours after the introduction of the resolution, the Pentagon announced it had already transferred the alleged senior Isis figure to Iraqi government custody.
The Senate resolution, spearheaded by Steve Daines of Montana, comes as the administration faces a dilemma that has vexed senior Pentagon officials and military officers: what to do with the battlefield captures that will inevitably occur as Obama escalates the war against Isis while he also makes his final push to close Guantnamo.
While the resolution will have no binding legal force on Obama, it displays the latest argument from the GOP-led Senate to block the White Houses Guantnamo closure plan a central aspect of which involves winning the support of Congress for a proposal it has vigorously and consistently resisted.
All individuals captured by the United States during combat operations against Isil that meet the criteria by their affiliation with Isil must be detained outside the United States and its territories and should be transferred to United States Naval Station, Guantnamo Bay, the proposed Senate resolution reads in part. Isil is another name for Isis.
Cruz, who claims he is the last candidate who can stop Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee, urged Congress to exercise its constitutional authority, a reference to Article 1, Section 8s empowerment of Congress to make rules concerning captures on land and water.
A statement from Cruz accompanying the resolution announcement began: Jihadists who seek to kill Americans should not be brought to American soil.
Obamas longstanding plans for emptying Guantnamo of its 91 remaining occupants include convincing Congress to remove a legal ban on transferring Guantnamo detainees to the mainland United States for either continued detention or trial before civilian courts and military tribunals.
Rubio, whose campaign for the Republican nomination is in dire straits, stated: There should be no confusion in the minds of our enemies that, if captured, they will be sent to the detention facility in Guantnamo Bay to be interrogated.
Various military commanders have for years expressed discomfort that Obamas commitment to emptying Guantnamo has inhibited them from capturing terrorist suspects beyond the declared battlefield of Afghanistan. Those captures have been the exception, and drone strikes and other lethal attacks have been the rule.
Now that Iraq, with Syria, is once again a theater of war though undeclared as such by Congress US military officers are sounding alarms over the absence of clear rules surrounding detentions policy, particularly for long-term detentions and interrogations. Unlike the GOP senators, they have not yet called for Obama to make Guantnamo Bay an option for those detentions.
Gen Joseph Votel, Obamas choice to oversee the anti-Isis war at US Central Command and a veteran leader of the elite special operations forces that conduct capture raids, raised the issue with the Senate this week as it considers his nomination.
The ability to detain individuals is essential a fundamental [tenet] of fighting and winning the current fight, Votel wrote in a statement for the Senate armed services committee for the record, citing the importance of interrogations to gather otherwise unobtainable actionable intelligence.
Related and pertinent is the development of an effective long-term policy for the detainment of enemy combatants which would allow holding certain enemy combatants indefinitely to fuel increased exploitation, Votel continued.
Yet there is little indication that Pentagon officials are moving from their current position on detentions.
Last month, US special operations forces captured Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, who has been described as Isiss chemical weapons chief, and had been holding him in what defense officials describe as a temporary detention center. On Thursday, the Pentagon announced it had transferred him to Iraqi government custody that morning, following what it described as a successful interrogation.
Through Dawud, the coalition learned details about Isils chemical weapon facilities and production, as well as the people involved. The information has resulted in multiple coalition airstrikes that have disrupted and degraded Isils ability to produce chemical weapons and will continue to inform our operations in the future, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.
In his statement to the Senate, Votel also appeared to endorse that approach: Detaining and exploiting enemy personnel and materiel prior to turning them over to partner nations is critical we must retain this policy going forward, he said.
Despite the resolutions introduction, the White House is holding to its current policy of attempting to achieve the closure of Guantnamo via Congress.
The administration looks forward to working with Congress to identify an appropriate facility for future detention, to lifting the statutory prohibitions, and to identifying the precise costs associated with doing so, said Myles Caggins, detentions spokesman at the National Security Council.
It is unclear when the Senate might vote on the resolution. An aide to Daines suggested that it might take months, until the Senate appropriations committee considers a military construction bill that might be the next opportunity for Guantnamo-related legislation.
Admiral Kurt Tidd, the new chief of US Southern Command, the military command overseeing Guantnamo, pledged to continue what he described as professional and humane detentions at the facility until the very last detainee steps on an airplane and departs the island. Kidd praised his forces for their utmost discipline, professionalism and integrity during a hearing of the Senate armed services committee on Thursday.
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