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Amnesty International activsits demostrate for the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay outisde the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. in this undated photograph. (Photo: Amnesty International/Twitter) 

GOP Senator Defends Guantánamo Bay Prison as 'Absolutely Vital Institution'

Sen. James Inhofe's comments come as congressional Democrats are reviving efforts to close the notorious U.S. military prison.

Brett Wilkins

Congressional Republicans on Tuesday threw cold water on a proposal by their Democratic colleagues that would cut off funding for the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba via a Pentagon funding bill, with one GOP senator defending the notorious extralegal lockup as an "absolutely vital institution."

Last month, House Democrats advanced proposed legislation to close the 20-year-old prison—a symbol of the brutality and lawlessness of the so-called War on Terror—as part of a larger military spending package.

However, congressional Republicans doubted that the measure would succeed.

"I'm sure it's not going to happen," Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill, adding, "no rational person's going to support that. It's an absolutely vital institution."

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) of the House Armed Services Committee added that congressional Democrats "have such slim majorities right now" that it's "difficult for them to do anything."

"So, getting something that controversial done is just, as a practical matter, not going to happen," he added.

According to The Hill:

The $761 billion defense funding bill advanced recently by the House Appropriations Committee explicitly prohibits funds from being used to operate the facility after Sept. 30, 2023. But, at a mark-up session on the bill last month, two Democrats joined Republicans in voting in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) to revoke that provision, ultimately failing in a largely party-line vote.

Furthermore, the House Armed Services Committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved last month, restricts the Pentagon's power to transfer detainees to Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

First opened in January 2002 by the George W. Bush administration following the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay—which was initially acquired when the United States invaded and occupied Cuba during the Spanish-American War—has held roughly 780 men and boys without charge or trial. Many of them were tortured.

Around 740 prisoners—many of whom were innocent, according to former Bush administration official Col. Lawrence Wilkerson—have been released. Thirty-six men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo, nine of whom are so-called "high-value detainees," including five men allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Last month, the Department of Defense announced that Asadullah Haroon al-Afghani, an Afghan imprisoned for 15 years at Guantánamo, would be transferred to his native country.

"The Biden administration remains dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantánamo facility," a National Security Council spokesperson told The Hill.

According to longtime Guantánamo-watcher Andy Worthington, high-value detainee Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi admitted to being involved in war crimes in a June plea deal that could lead to his release by 2024. U.S. military prosecutors are also reportedly in talks with attorneys representing five Guantánamo prisoners including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that will spare the men from execution but result in their lifetime imprisonment.

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