Congress says inmates can stand trial on US soil

The US Congress has passed legislation allowing the Obama administration to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the US to face prosecution, boosting ongoing efforts to close the notorious facility.


The US Congress has given President Barack Obama the green light to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to US soil to stand trial, in a move that will greatly contribute to his efforts to close the military prison.

The legislation cleared the Senate 79-19 after sailing through the House of Representatives last week.

Obama vowed on his second day in office to shutter the notorious facility by January 22, though White House aides say it will be difficult to keep that promise. Of the roughly 220 people still held at the controversial prison camp, about 80 are waiting to be released and a further 60 are expected to be prosecuted.

The legislation forbids the release of detainees at the US naval base in Cuba onto US soil --including overseas territories like Guam or Puerto Rico-- and requires a detailed assessment of the possible security risk to be produced 45 days before detainees can be brought to trial in the US.

The assessment would have to include details of the dangers involved, steps to diminish the possible threat, the legal rationale for the transfer, and assurances to the governor of the receiving state that the individual poses little or no security risk.

The legislation also says the detainees cannot be sent to another country unless the president gives Congress the name of the detainee, the destination, a risk assessment, and the terms of a transfer.

The measure would also allow the Pentagon to block the release of photographs showing abuse of suspected terrorists in US custody, in line with Obama's policy of opposing efforts to make such pictures public.

The bill did not address whether the Obama administration can hold prisoners indefinitely without charge in the United States and left unclear what the fate would be of those who may be tried and acquitted.

The government team tasked with assessing the detainee cases has struggled to persuade other countries to take some of the captives, with only a trickle of prisoners -- some 27 -- transferred since Obama's inauguration in January.

Prosecution, even by a special system of military commissions created for that purpose by the US Congress, has been dogged by problems -- including charges of evidence tainted by abuse -- and criticised for allowing hearsay evidence.

Obama's Republican foes have opposed bringing detainees to US soil for trial or detention -- even if the detainees were held alongside serial murderers and rapists in high security federal prisons.

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