This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) that would have allowed terrorism suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba (a facility operated by the United States) to be transferred to the U.S. and prosecuted in U.S. courts. This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Defense Department programs.
Specifically, the underlying defense bill prohibited the Obama administration from transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to a facility in the U.S. This provision effectively barred those detainees from being prosecuted in the United States. Rather, they would face special trials run by members of the U.S. militaryknownmilitary known as “military commissions.”
Smith urged support for his amendment: “The main problem I have with the underlying bill is it takes that possibility off the table and requires either a military commission or indefinite detention, and I think that is a bad and dangerous policy. Now, we have to understand that we have already tried and convicted over 400 international terrorists in our federal courts…. As we sit here right now, or as I stand here right now, we have over 300 convicted terrorists being held in prisons in the United States. There is no question that we can do this, no question that we can do it safely….So I ask simply that we give the President all the tools in his toolbox. I support military commissions. I support indefinite detention. In certain instances that's going to be necessary, but I also support our Article 3 courts [federal courts] that have over 200 years of history, that are some of the most respected courts in the world for their ability to bring swift and fair justice to all criminals.”
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) opposed the amendment: “His [Smith’s] amendment would allow Guantanamo detainees and other detainees to be transferred to the United States to face prosecution. I share his goal of seeking justice for victims of terrorism. However, I disagree that it's necessary to bring detainees to the United States to do so. I feel strongly that many Guantanamo detainees and other law of war detainees overseas should be prosecuted in the military commission system instead of bringing them into the United States. We currently have multimillion-dollar facilities ready to try detainees for their war crimes at Guantanamo that are sitting empty. Additionally, Guantanamo detainees who already have habeas protection would likely be granted further constitutional rights if brought onto U.S. soil….There is no need to bring Guantanamo or other law of war detainees into the United States.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 165-253. Voting “yea” were 162 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 3 Republicans. 231 Republicans and 22 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have allowed terrorism suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba to be transferred to the U.S. and prosecuted in U.S. courts.