NPR logo Congress' Dems Still Irked By Obama On Gitmo, Tribunals

Congress' Dems Still Irked By Obama On Gitmo, Tribunals

NPR's Justice correspondent Ari Shapiro has learned of a heated meeting Tuesday involving Obama Administration officials and congressional types over President Barack Obama's controversial plan to close Guantanamo and continue the Bush Administration tack on military tribunals, with some tweaks, for detainees.

Congressional Democrats continue to feel like the administration has left them holding the bag by announcing its plan to close Guantanamo without actually having a plan about what to do with the detainees, obviously a key detail.

Shapiro reports, by e-mail, that:

A Democratic staffer just told me about an apparently contentious meeting that took place yesterday between Hill folks and the Administration on the issue of closing Guantanamo and military commissions. From Congress there were Judiciary, Armed Services, and leadership folks. From the Administration there was Lisa Monaco (Deputy Assistant Attorney General at Justice), Jay Johnson (DOD General Counsel's office), and Trevor Morrison (White House Counsel's office).

The meeting was to discuss military commissions, and the Hill folks were apparently frustrated that all the Administration folks wanted to do was listen. The staffer told me, "There are a lot of people out here who feel like they've been hung out to dry on this issue (of closing Guantanamo). They asked for that money in the appropriations process without a plan and forced us to take that vote.

"Now we've got FY 2010 just around the corner, and we're going to face a similar vote which we will lose unless they get their act together and get engaged very soon. So we appreciate the outreach and the engagement. Certainly it's a departure from the previous administration, but at the same time if they don't get up here and start helping us to defend their proposal to close Guantanamo, it's going to be too late."

This person went on: "Most Democrats want to support their effort to close Guantanamo. They've (the Administration) made it much harder for us because they have not exercised leadership, and at the same time there's ambivalence about military commissions and indefinite detention, and they have not helped alleviate that ambivalence either. So we want to be supportive but we're having a hard time figuring out how to do that."

A second Democratic Senate staffer corroborated the account but characterized the friction "in a more tempered way."

This staffer said, "There are question marks above people's heads saying 'What is the proposal, how exactly are you going to close Guantanamo bay, what is this new proposal for military commissions going to look like?' " The staffer added, "You need to see a proposal to feel like there's advancement toward accomplishing these goals. There are a lot of questions for which there aren't any answers right now."

Congress recently blocked money requested by the Obama Administration to close Guantanamo pending a detailed plan from the administration on what it intends to do with the detainees.