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Cruz proposes bill that would declassify backgrounds of Obama’s Gitmo releases

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas introduced legislation Tuesday that would mandate the declassification and public release of information pertaining to the Guantanamo Bay detainees President Barack Obama has transferred since Nov. 8.

On Monday, Oman's foreign ministry said that it had accepted 10 Gitmo detainees, aiding Obama with his last-minute push to severely shrink the Cuban facility he vowed to close when he first campaigned for president in 2008.

When Obama took office, there were roughly 245 inmates at the prison. According to the Wall Street Journal, Monday's announcement will bring the number of detainees remaining to less than 50.

Republican lawmakers have long opposed the president's desire to close Gitmo, and have thrown roadblocks in his way at every available opportunity. In February 2016, when Obama presented a Pentagon-authored plan proposing 13 sites on U.S. soil to hold 30-60 detainees in maximum-security facilities, Republicans expressed safety concerns.

"We’ll review President Obama’s plan," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at the time. "But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal."

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered similar remarks, saying, "We will not jeopardize our national security over a campaign promise."

Many politicians have pointed to data from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which shows that around 30 percent of transferred detainees have reengaged in terrorist activities

"Even though the American people rightly rejected President Obama’s dangerous plan to completely empty the Guantanamo detention facility, he is still irresponsibly working to release as many terrorists as possible before he leaves office," Cruz said in a statement Tuesday. "President Obama’s push to empty GTMO is reckless, and the American people should be made aware of the past terrorist activities committed by the individuals detained there."

Though Obama has been able to transfer many detainees, he hasn't been able to fully shutter Gitmo. A portion of the National Defense Authorization Act — an annual military policy bill that Obama signed — prohibits any funds from being used to bring detainees to the U.S. or from being used to establish a detention facility on American soil.

In addition, in order for any third-party transfer to take place, the president is required to seek congressional approval 30 days in advance.

And for the transfer to be approved, there are several hurdles to jump through. The secretary of state is required to submit a specific, written certification to Congress, explaining why the move "is in the national security interests of the United States." The NDAA also calls for a certification of the ability and willingness of the country receiving the detainee to "substantially mitigate any risk the individual could attempt to reengage in terrorist activity or otherwise threaten the United States or its allies or interests."

Obama did none of that in the 2014 prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was being held in Afghanistan.

While Republicans slammed Obama for allowing the transfer of five Taliban figures from Gitmo in exchange for Bergdahl, the president said made the decision without Congress' approval due to the soldier's health, claiming immediate action was necessary.

"The law says they are to give us 30 days' notice. If the president thought that was unconstitutional or an invalid law, than he shouldn't have signed the bill," former Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, said of the move. "He knew very well that he was required by law to give us 30 days' notice and he didn't do it."

According to a CNN/ORC poll from March 2016, a majority of Americans — 56 percent — oppose the president's efforts to shut down the detention center, while 40 percent support the idea. Breaking the survey down to parties, an overwhelming 83 percent of Republicans supported maintaining Gitmo and only 33 percent of Democrats felt the same.

Just days after winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump vowed to "load [Gitmo] up with some bad dudes" and, earlier this month, he called for a freeze on releases from the detention center.

One last thing…
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