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Senator Warns Defense Secretary of Blockade Over Gitmo

Moran, right, with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on the campaign trail. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Moran, right, with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on the campaign trail. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress is gearing up for another fight over relocating detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that has Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter making calls.  

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., spoke with Carter Thursday and reiterated his intent to use procedural tools in the Senate to block the transfer of detainees from the naval base at Gitmo to sites on the mainland of the United States, particularly the prison facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.  

“I relayed my opposition to the relocation of GITMO detainees to Fort Leavenworth or to any other site on the mainland. Secretary Carter told me that Fort Leavenworth is neither the preferred nor the determined alternative for relocation. The Secretary indicated additional sites will be reviewed,” Roberts said in a statement. “I reminded him of my previous actions in 2009 blocking a transfer of detainees to Ft. Leavenworth, and made clear that I plan to use all tools of the Senate to fight any relocation of terrorists to the mainland.”  

Roberts has said previously that his effort could include a blockade of relevant nominees.  

Fellow Kansas Republican Jerry Moran has been among other leaders of the opposition, a point he highlighted in a statement issued last week when word spread that military officials had visited Leavenworth in assessing potential sites. Pentagon officials told CQ Roll Call earlier this week that the Naval brig at Charleston, S.C., would be the next site to be reviewed, but civilian facilities were also in play.  

“I have repeatedly been part of efforts in Congress to prevent the facility’s closure and block the transfer of detainees to American soil, not only through legislation but also through the annual defense authorization bill. I will continue to push to prohibit the transfer of prisoners to Kansas or anywhere else in the United States. This administration’s last-ditch effort to carry out President Obama’s reckless national security decision before he leaves office is disingenuous and flawed,” Moran said.  

South Carolina Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, have also been vocal about the prospect of moving detainees to the mainland, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a long track record of using leadership leverage to block transfers.  

The issue could come to a head again next month for Carter and leaders on Capitol Hill in both the effort to advance a House-Senate agreement on a fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, as well as part of legislation to fund the government beyond September 30, where a policy rider blocking detainee transfers might find a home in a McConnell-led Senate.  

In July, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pledged that President Barack Obama would veto  the defense policy bill if it reaches the president’s desk with language barring Gitmo prisoner transfers to the mainland.

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