The Senate passed a measure barring the transfer of Guantanamo Bay terrorist detainees to prisons on U.S. soil by a 54-41 vote late Thursday, triggering a White House veto threat.
The measure comes on the heels of a General Accountability Office report released Wednesday that said the 166 Guantanamo detainees could safely be moved to federal prisons without jeopardizing national security.
The report contained no specific recommendations, but indicated it would be feasible to house the detainees in six facilities run by the Defense Department and 98 run by the Justice Department after certain modifications.
"To say that high-risk detainees cannot be held securely in a maximum-security prison is just plain wrong," Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters after releasing the report. The Bureau of Prisons already houses 373 convicted terrorists, she said.
"The administration may want to close Guantanamo, but the American people do not want foreign terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed brought to the United States," said bill sponsor Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
In a statement given to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said that closing the facility would raise numerous problems.
"The very first page of the GAO report lays out in stark terms the serious problems that would come into play if detainees from Guantanamo were transferred to the United States, including legal and cost considerations, compliance with U.S. and international laws, collecting intelligence information, and ensuring the safety and security of the public," Chambliss said. "These are among the reasons why Congress has prohibited the transfer of these detainees to the United States and why those prohibitions must continue."
Incoming ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., had similar sentiments.
"Sen. Feinstein's report yesterday on housing GITMO detainees within the United States acknowledges cost, legal and security obstacles to the terrible idea of transferring detainees to the U.S.," Inhofe told the IPT in a written statement. "These areas – especially the potential of granting terrorist detainees the constitutional rights reserved for Americans and the security issues involved are why there has long been broad bipartisan opposition to transferring terrorist detainees to American soil.
"Simply put, these detainees must not be brought to the United States."
The White House responded to the bill's passage saying it threatens the Executive Branch's power to manage military operations in the ongoing conflict and that it "provided no benefit whatsoever to our national security."