In his first several days in office, President Obama announced that he would close the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility in Cuba. He did not indicate where the prisoners living there would be relocated. For their part, U.S. lawmakers know where they don't want them to go: Anywhere near their districts.
The president is reaching out to countries around the world to take in former Guantanamo detainees, but as the Associated Press points out, he is facing strong opposition very close to home.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a war spending bill which fobids releasing Guantanamo detainees in the U.S. The bill is now before the Senate.
Meanwhile, several northern Virginia lawmakers are speaking out against the possible local relocation of the 17 Uighurs who had been held at the facility. Uighurs are Turkic Muslims from western China. They say the Chinese government has oppressed them; China calls them insurgents and wants them extradited.
On Sunday, Virginia Democrat Senator Jim Webb said he would not support a reloation of the Uighurs prisoners in Northern Virginia. "They accepted training from Al Qaeda and as a result they have taken part in terrorism," the senator said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "I don't believe they should come to the United States."
In a Washington Post editorial last week, Representative Jim Moran (D-Va.) said that the announcement to close Guantanamo was "the easy part," adding, "we Virginians would rather not have terrorism suspects held and tried in our back yard. Should some of the detainees at Guantanamo be sent to the Alexandria courthouse, there is no question that people in the immediate vicinity -- more than 10,000 residents and workers during business hours -- would be affected."
In an interview with the AP, Representative Frank Wolf (D-Va.) said that while he supports the Uighur community in northern Virginia, "a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist."
He wrote a letter to President Obama in early May which asked for declassification of all intelligence surrounding the Uighurs' capture and detention as well as an assessment of their possible threat.
"The American people deserve to have all the facts about these individuals before they should be expected to tolerate their presence in our communities," he wrote. The AP reports that he will recieve a briefing from the FBI on Tuesday afternoon.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that while some of the Uighurs are likely to be released in the United States, the administration has not yet announced plans for their relocation.
The AP also notes that the audible resistance of these lawmakers may affect the chances of foreign countries -- especially European allies -- taking in the Guantanamo detainees.
The issue of what to do with the Uighur detainees has penetrated the heated Virginia governors race as well. The Washington Post reports that Republican candidate Robert F. McDonnell has issued a campaign statement saying "Keep Guantanamo Bay Detainees Out of Virginia." Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and R. Creigh Deeds have expressed muted concerns. The Virginia gubernatorial primary is June 9th.
UPDATE, 1 PM ET: The AP reports a top Democratic official said Tuesday that Senate Democrats will not support providing the funds to close Guantanamo. The proposed changes to the war spending bill have yet to be revealed, but the Pentagon said it still expects the prison to be closed by January 2010.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on Tuesday that he sees nothing to indicate that deadline would be delayed, the AP reported.