On April 30, 2014, the House of Representatives passed a $64.7 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 4486), sponsored by Rep. John Abney Culberson, R-Texas, also includes $6.6 billion for military construction projects, including family housing, medical units, and education and training facilities. The vote was 416 yeas to 1 nay.
Before passage, the House rejected (249-168) a Democratic-backed amendment seeking to eliminate a provision in the bill that bars funding for construction of facilities in the U.S. that would house suspected terrorist detainees now being held at the Navy’s Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. During the debate, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) said: “Guantanamo is a rallying cry for extremists around the world, and until we transfer and try these detainees, there is no denying that Guantanamo is in fact hurting our national security.” Culberson replied that trying the detainees in U.S. courts would give them unwarranted constitutional protections. The vote, on April 30, was 168 yeas to 249 nays.
Following the vote, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) released the following statement:
Guantanamo Bay is a Stain on Our National Honor
May 1, 2014
“We are told by some in the majority that enemy soldiers should not have constitutional rights. But Mr. Speaker, a majority, concededly, of those at Guantanamo was never involved in hostile acts against the United States; 86% were turned in for bounties. We don’t know whether these people are enemy soldiers—some of them may be, and some of them are probably not—and we don’t know that they’re terrorists. That—those facts must be determined in a fair proceeding of some sort; but at Guantanamo there are no proceedings. They haven’t managed to hold military trials and we can’t hold civilian trials there. So we are holding people for no purpose, with no proceedings, no hearings, no opportunity, essentially forever.
“The time to close Guantanamo is now. Guantanamo is a stain on our national honor. Never mind all the foreign policy reasons why it’s poisoning our relations with other countries, instigating terror against it—the fact is: it’s wrong.
“We are holding 154 people at Gitmo, 77 of whom have been cleared for release, that is to say they have been found guilty of nothing, are thought to be guilty of nothing, and have been judged not to pose any danger, but nonetheless they’re not released. There is no reason and no right for us to hold them further. The others should be brought to the United States and tried for their offenses. Mr. Chairman, I wonder which of our colleagues doesn’t believe in the American system of justice. I wonder which one of us does not trust our own American courts. I wonder who among us does not believe in the Bill of Rights, who does not believe in the right to counsel or that people should have an opportunity to have their guilt or innocence established in court. What we have at Gitmo is a system that is an affront to those beliefs and to the United States.
“In the last decade, we have begun to let go of our freedoms bit by bit with each new executive order, each new court decision and, yes, each new act of Congress. We have begun giving away our rights to privacy, a right to our day in court when the government harms us; and with this legislation, we are continuing down the path of destroying the right to be free from imprisonment without due process of law.
“Indeed, I wonder, if some of the people in Guantanamo broke out of jail, and inflicted injuries on American personnel in so doing, and were caught, how we would defend ourselves when they said we were just victims of kidnapping, the United States government kidnapped us with no claim of right and we have every right to use force to escape an illegal kidnapping by a government acting essentially under no law.
“I want to commend the gentleman from Washington and the gentleman from Virginia for fighting to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.
“The language in this bill without our amendment prohibits moving any detainees into the United States and guarantees that we will continue holding people indefinitely, people who may not be terrorists, some of whom we may suspect to be terrorists, none of whom have had a day in court to prove they are or are not terrorists. We will continue to hold them indefinitely without charge, contrary to every tradition this country stands for, contrary to any notion of due process.
“Because of this momentous challenge to the founding principles of the United States, that no person may be deprived of liberty without due process of law—and certainly may not be deprived of liberty indefinitely without due process of law—we must close the detention facility at Guantanamo now, in order to restore our national honor.
“This will afford the detainees no additional constitutional rights. The Supreme Court has already ruled that detainees at Guantanamo have the same constitutional rights at Guantanamo as they would if they were brought here.
“We must close this facility, try these people or let them go, and restore our national honor. Support this amendment.”
Jerrold Nadler has served in Congress since 1992. He represents New York’s 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. His website is here.