New Gitmo Plan Would Relocate Some Detainees To U.S. : Parallels President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser recently floated a plan to empty Guantanamo's detention camps and relocate "enemy combatants." The president promised in 2009 to shut down the facility.
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New Gitmo Plan Would Relocate Some Detainees To U.S.

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New Gitmo Plan Would Relocate Some Detainees To U.S.

New Gitmo Plan Would Relocate Some Detainees To U.S.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One of President Obama's top security aides is publicly floating a plan to do something the administration has long tried to do, relocate all the enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay. Some congressional leaders have criticized the president for not spelling out how he would shut that prison down, as he's promised to do since days after taking office. Obama has cut the number of detainees locked up there by more than half. Still, 116 remain. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Probably no one in Congress has pushed harder for a plan to shutter Guantanamo than John McCain, the former prisoner of war who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Arizona Republican says how to do that must come from President Obama.

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SEN JOHN MCCAIN: For the last six years, I've been saying, give us a plan, and we will consider it as to where these people could be located in the United States.

WELNA: Lisa Monaco, who's the president's top counterterrorism advisor, says McCain is right to demand such a plan.

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LISA MONACO: My hope is that we can work with him and his colleagues to get this done. This is not something that the president wants to turn over to his successor.

WELNA: That was Monaco speaking over the weekend at the Aspen Security Conference. She said there now is in fact a plan to empty Guantanamo's detention camps.

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MONACO: We're going to transfer everyone who has been deemed eligible for transfer consistent with security.

WELNA: That would be the 52 detainees who are still waiting for another country to accept them. But that still leaves 64 others, of whom only 10 face any formal charges. Some could still be deemed eligible for release. But Monaco acknowledges others are considered too dangerous to be freed.

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MONACO: So we're going to whittle down this group to what I refer to as the irreducible minimum, who would have to be brought here to a secure location, held under the laws of war, continuing under military detention, and that's the only way we're going to be able to close Guantanamo and then subject those individuals either to prosecution in military commission or Article 3 courts and a Supermax cell.

WELNA: But to do that, Congress would have to lift a ban it imposed six years ago on transferring any detainees to U.S. soil. Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions says the country is better off with them staying where they are.

SEN JEFF SESSIONS: Once you put them in a general population here, it drives this idea that they have to be only tried in federal courts with all the rules we provide to a normal criminal case. And it's not so.

WELNA: And that may be why assurances the detainees will be held in military facilities fail to sway hardliners like Sessions. American University law professor Stephen Vladeck says it's not clear how moving those detainees to the U.S. might change their legal situation.

STEPHEN VLADECK: There's nothing Congress can do to take away whatever constitutional rights the detainees would acquire by virtue of being moved into the U.S. I think the harder question and the one on which there is far less precedent is whether simply moving the detainees into the U.S. will thereby bestow upon them constitutional rights.

WELNA: A defense bill the Senate passed last month would guarantee an up or down vote by Congress on a presidential plan to close Guantanamo. But it's not clear when the White House will send one to Congress, nor that the defense bill would even be signed by the president. The reason, other parts of the bill make it even harder to empty Guantanamo. With the House leaving town today for a long summer break, further action won't likely come before September. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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