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Closing Gitmo gets a setback

c.2010 New York Times News Service@

WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee has dealt a blow to President Barack Obama's hopes to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by unanimously approving legislation that would prohibit creating a detention center inside the United States.

The administration had asked Congress to approve about $350 million to buy and renovate a nearly empty prison in Thomson, Ill. The White House plan was to empty Guantanamo and transfer its detainees to Illinois — including 48 who would be held without trial as wartime prisoners.

But late Wednesday, the House committee unanimously approved a defense bill for 2011 that bans spending money to build or modify any facility inside the United States to house Guantanamo detainees, according to a summary of the bill.

It says the committee wants to see "a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility. No such plan has been presented to date. The bill prohibits the use of any funds for this purpose."


The bill also requires Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to produce a report for Congress that "adequately justifies" any proposal for such a facility in the future, suggesting that lawmakers could reverse course.

It was already clear that the Guantanamo prison would not be closed until 2011 at the earliest. With the committee's stance, the prospects of closing it receded still further.

Obama had declared he would close the prison within a year of taking office. The administration argues that Guantanamo is a symbol used for terrorism recruitment, so closing it would enhance national security.

But many Republicans have maintained that Guantanamo should stay open, arguing that the Thomson plan would waste money and create a national-security risk. Some libertarians also oppose institutionalizing indefinite detentions without trial on domestic soil.

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