Long Island’s representatives to Congress on Tuesday split along party lines in response to President Barack Obama’s latest proposal to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison, as Democrats cautiously backed the idea, but Republicans sharply criticized it.
That division began when Obama issued his first executive order in 2009 to close the internment camp for accused terrorists, and has continued through many votes on successful Republican measures to restrict detainee transfers and funds for alternatives sites.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) over the years have withheld full support for closure because of concerns about security.
“I understand the argument that gulags holding enemies of the state shouldn’t be an American value, and in fact becomes a symbol for the recruitment of more enemies,” Israel said.
“However, I want to make sure that this process is done in an intelligent way that prioritizes the safety of the American people,” he said.
Schumer had no comment, his spokesman Matt House said, because he hasn’t reviewed the plan.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who said she looks forward to briefings on the proposal, said, “I support closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and prosecuting the prisoners in [U.S. civilian] courts.”
Obama’s 21-page proposal calls for transfers out for 35 prisoners cleared for release, while seeking new locations in the United States for 10 others who are being processed through military commissions and 46 in detention for security reasons.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he is “strongly opposed” to a plan he called “vague,” in part because he’s concerned detainees moved to the United States would get legal rights they don’t have now.
He added Obama is just trying to fulfill a campaign promise.
Long Island’s two first-term House members also split in votes on Guantanamo restrictions last year and in their reaction to the plan.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) echoed Obama’s recollection that when he took office, both outgoing President George W. Bush and his 2008 Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), supported closing Guantanamo.
Rice called on both sides to cut out the politics and to work together “to determine the right way to finally close this facility, as well as to develop a clear and comprehensive policy for how we’ll deal with detainees in the future.”
But Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) called Obama’s proposal “a dangerous political move that could not come at a worse time as terrorist groups like ISIS continue to spread.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) gave a strong endorsement to Obama’s plan and urged Congress to consider it.