The Obama administration will not release terrorists from Guantanamo Bay into neighborhoods in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Thursday as he sought to reassure worried lawmakers.
"We don't have any plans to release terrorists," Holder testified at a Senate hearing on the Obama administration's budget for the Justice Department. The budget proposal released Thursday requests up to $160 million to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But he also said some of the detainees at the facility will be let go, indicating the administration believes some held there are not terrorists. Asked after the hearing if he believes some current Guantanamo detainees are innocent, Holder did not answer.
The attorney general faced repeated questions from lawmakers about his plans for closing Guantanamo. President Barack Obama has ordered the center shuttered by January 2010.
Terrorist transfer troubles
Republicans critical of Obama's plan claim Guantanamo detainees cannot legally be brought to the United States because federal law bars entry to anyone who has received terrorist training.
Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, pressed Holder to say whether he believed he had the authority to release someone with terrorist training into the United States. The attorney general did not directly answer Shelby's question, but said the government doesn't have any plans to release terrorists.
"With regard to those who you would describe as terrorists, we would not bring them into this country and release them, anyone we would consider to be a terrorist," Holder said.
He added the government has no plans to release anyone considered a terrorist in a foreign country, either.
Last week in Europe, Holder said about 30 Guantanamo detainees have been approved for release. He has been asking European countries to take some, but that may be difficult if the United States does not also take some.
Republicans in Congress are fighting any such move, saying the presence of detainees would endanger communities that receive them.
The Democrat chairing the subcommittee hearing, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, also voiced misgivings, saying local and state elected officials should be told if they are going to receive detainees.
Mikulski said she and other lawmakers "would be very concerned" about not being consulted on what the plans are for detainees brought to the U.S.
Holder assured her they would be consulted, but added that "determinations have not been made yet" about where to send any of the remaining Guantanamo detainees.
As Holder testified, House Republicans offered legislation that would bar the U.S. from releasing any Guantanamo detainees into the country without the approval of the state's governor and legislature.
There are currently 241 people held at the detention center at the U.S. military base in Cuba. Holder said some will be released, some will be put on trial, and some "are going to be detained on a fairly extended basis."