White House ducks out of Senate’s first Guantanamo hearing in five years

Though president Obama recommitted to closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in May, the first Senate hearing in five years held to discuss precisely that topic was notable for the lack of any White House witnesses.

In May during a major speech outlining US defense topics,
including ongoing drone strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen and other
regions of the world, Obama addressed the administration’s
renewed commitment to push for cleared prisoner transfers out of
Guantanamo, with the aim of eventually closing down the prison.

On Wednesday, the Senate held its first hearing since 2009 on
whether to shut down Guantanamo, though according to an aide for
Senator Dick Durbin who spoke with The Daily Beast, the Obama
administration was invited but declined to send a witness to
bolster its case to shut down the facility.

Both Thursday’s hearing as well as Obama’s renewed effort to
close Guantanamo comes as detainees continue on a hunger strike
in protest of their indefinite detention as well as conditions at
the prison. The force-feeding of the hunger strikers has in
particular become a magnet for criticism by those who argue for
the facility’s closure and a growing number of human rights
advocates.

“I believe it violates international norms and medical ethics.
And at Guantanamo, it happens day after day and week after
week,”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the
hearing of the continued force-feedings.

Supporters of closing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention facility hold pictures of prisoners being held at the facility while viewing a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee July 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo / Win Mcnamee)

Feinstein, who requested in April that the White House resume
cleared prisoner transfers out of Guantanamo, has in the last few
months become one of the most visible proponents of drawing down
operations at the center.

Both Senators Richard Durbin Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate
Intelligence committee, urged the administration to outline a
process for closing the detention center in July. The two
senators also urged Obama to direct the Department of Defense to
stop conducting large-scale force feedings at the detention
center.

Only a few days before the request made by the two senators a
judge had ruled that only Obama himself had the power to
intervene in halting the force-feeding of hunger strikes.

Of the 166 prisoners who still remain in the camp, 86 have
already been cleared for release. However, owing to political
opposition in Congress, early attempts by the Obama
administration through the Department of Justice during its first
term to transfer prisoners to other locations failed.

The notable absence of any witnesses on the part of the White
House in Wednesday’s hearing also indicates that the White House
is not behind a plan to repatriate prisoners back to their
countries, according to sources who spoke with The Daily Beast.

“I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the administration
could be doing more to close Guantánamo,”
Durbin said on
Wednesday, going on to explain that he and Feinstein had met with
“senior White House officials” to discuss how to transfer
detainees out of Guantanamo.

The president has been clear that he wants Guantánamo closed,
and the national security waiver provides an avenue to start
clearing transfers
,” said C. Dixon Osburn, the director of
Human Rights First’s law and security program. “If the White
House believes it does not have the authority, they should tell
Congress what authority they need and make it to the Hill and say
so.”

Republished from: RT