Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

Ted Cruz to Push Moratorium on Guantanamo Transfers

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz plans an aggressive push to impose a moratorium on transferring detainees out of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Asked about the possibility of trying to attach his six month delay in additional transfers out of the detention facility to an upcoming appropriations bill, the Texas Republican said he would explore every option.

“We will attempt to use all procedural tools to advance the bill,” Cruz said. “I think putting a halt to releasing terrorists from Guantánamo while there is time to assess whether our national security interests are being protected is only prudent, and I hope Congress will step up and exercise its constitutional authority.”

The Cruz maneuver comes in the aftermath of the swap of five Taliban officials for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on May 31. The Obama administration has faced bipartisan criticism for the terms of the deal, as well as the lack of congressional notification pursuant to existing law.

“There are real and serious constitutional arguments that can be raised about the statute Congress passed requiring Congressional notification, but the administration has not treated this issue with the seriousness that is appropriate. Indeed, one of the most troubling aspects of this is the cavalier aspect with which this administration just ignores statutes,” Cruz said.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that the White House justification for the lack of notice was “just not true.”

The new legislation contains waiver provisions, but it’s unclear whether any congressionally-mandated moratorium would be deemed to infringe on the powers of the commander-in-chief anyway.

“As the legislation is drafted, it’s simply a six-month pause to allow time for consideration,” Cruz said. “The legislation has within it a provision for a congressional waiver if there are exigent circumstances in those six months that are compelling. The president can go to Congress and seek a waiver from that.”

Cruz made his comments to reporters gathered after a closed Senate Armed Services briefing on the Bergdahl matter.

Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he would oppose the Cruz effort and similar endeavors.

“When your top uniform officers support this kind of a transfer to get their people back, I’m not willing to legislate and put Congress to say that they should never do this. I’m not willing to say that if they believe that their military requirements and ethos lead to this kind of conclusion,” Levin said. “So I would not support that.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III also continued to express concern after the briefing, which is just the latest in a series about the Bergdahl deal.

“In my mind, it’s still a bad deal. I can’t explain it back home to my fellow West Virginians,” the West Virginian said. “The bottom line is, is why all of a sudden five at one time? Why keep them for this long and now they don’t become a threat to the United States of America?”

Despite all else, “It still doesn’t justify [a swap for] five of the most notorious people we’ve had for 10 years,” Manchin said. “If they were that important for us to keep them that long then to believe that all of the sudden all five are okay to be released?”

Earlier Tuesday Arizona Republican John McCain was asked about the Cruz proposal to bar any prisoner transfers from Guantánamo, but McCain said he hadn’t seen it.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, was among members who continue to believe the Taliban members involved in the exchange could return to the fight.

“I have every reason to believe if they want to go back to the fight they will,” Inhofe said. “Judging from their backgrounds I think they will go back to the fight.”

But Levin has come down squarely in support of the deal, citing views of military brass.

“When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs tell me as chairman of the Armed Services Committee and try to tell the public that they very much supported this deal despite the fact that they knew that Bergdahl had left his unit. And despite the fact they knew these five Taliban were bad guys,” Levin said. “They still supported this under their ethos. That has a big impact on me so I am very much guided by their judgment.”

Humberto Sanchez and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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