The Obama Administration is contemplating the release of "some" terrorist-trained inmates from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the United States, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday.
The comments came during questioning from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell about the Administration's plan for a specific group of detainees, Chinese nationals known as Uighurs. Asked if the plan was to simply "release them in the United States not to be incarcerated, but just to be released," Gates did not rule out the possibility.
"I'm not sure a final decision has been made," Gates said, "[but] what I have heard people talking about is our taking some of the Uighurs" into the United States.
McConnell has also raised questions about the legal authority for such a release, and has cited a letter that Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions recently sent to Attorney General Eric Holder in which he asked for the Administration's legal justification for releasing trained terrorists into the U.S. Trained terrorists are currently barred by federal law from entering the United States.
As for the remaining detainees, Gates said that it is still an "open question" as to where they will be held, though one option the administration is considering is housing them in U.S. facilities. To date, Gates said, there are still "50 to 100" detainees in Guantanamo "who we cannot release and cannot try either in Article 3 Courts or Military Commissions."
McConnell said he understood the dilemma, but that it was created by the Administration's decision to mandate an arbitrary closing date for the facility before it had a plan for what to do with the inmates being held there. "The previous administration also said they wanted to close Guantanamo," McConnell said. "The difference is, this administration actually put a date on it and actually has to answer the question: what are you going to do with them?"
McConnell has emerged as a leading critic of the Administration's reported plan to move trained terrorists from Guantanamo to the U.S. a position the Senate affirmed two summers ago by a vote of 94-3. At Thursday's hearing, McConnell noted that communities across the country are increasingly alarmed about the Administration's proposal to transfer inmates to U.S. soil.
"Communities are going to be upset about this," McConnell said. "This is a very important issue and it deals with public safety, as we all know. We haven't been attacked against since 9/11. We like that and we'd like for that record to continue."
Gates acknowledge the widespread opposition among the public to transferring detainees to the United States, noting at one point that he fully expects to have to have "535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying not in my district, not in my state.'" McConnell replied: "you can count on it."
Thursday's hearing comes 267 days before the detention facility Guantanamo is mandated to be closed under a January executive order by the President.