Why Democrats buckled to GOP fears on Guantánamo
The Senate denied Obama the money to shut down the prison, in part because Democrats didn't want to be seen as soft on terrorism.
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“No member of Congress wants to see or advocate the reckless release of anyone into our communities," she added. "I very much regret that this amount [$80 million] was in the supplemental bill without a plan."Skip to next paragraph
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At an oversight hearing of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence Wednesday, Republicans pressed Director Robert Mueller on whether the Obama administration's decision to close Guantánamo Bay may endanger Americans.
In response, Mr. Mueller said, "Concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists [to] radicalizing others with regard to violent extremism [and] the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States."
But those concerns aren't unique to Guantánamo detainees, he added: "Any individual who comes into the United States from whatever source ... may present a challenge."
For his part, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii said Guantánamo had become too much of a distraction – to the point that it threatened to delay war funding. “Instead of letting this bill get bogged down over this matter, as chairman of the committee I determined that the better course is to eliminate the funding,” he said on the floor of the Senate just before the mid-day vote.
But he also emphasized the need to close the prison. “Let me be very clear: We need to close Guantánamo prison,” he added. “Our servicemen and woman are doing great work, but the fact of the matter is that Guantánamo is a symbol of the wrongdoing that has occurred, and we need to remove that connection.”
Some experts suggest that the Democrats are playing it safe. “Dems should not feel on the defensive. The polls are still in their favor,” says Julian Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey. “But unless Democrats are clear on what they want to do with these detainees, these votes could chip away at that approval level.”
“The promise to close Guantánamo is one of the most important steps Obama made early on," he adds. "Now, to have Democrats in the Senate backtrack and give the sense that Republicans are regaining their momentum is a blow."
Republican pollsters challenge the view that the public has moved toward Democrats on national security. According to a poll released last week by Resurgent Republican, a GOP polling and advocacy group, 53 percent of Americans say “harsh interrogation" of detainees – which critics call torture – is justified, compared with 34 percent who say it is not.