By Louis Porter VERMONT PRESS BUREAU - Published: May 21, 2009
MONTPELIER — A vote on funding to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center requested by President Barack Obama resulted in the $80 million being stripped out of a war funding bill in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
Vermont's two U.S. senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders, an Independent, split on the spending provision. Leahy was one of six senators voting in support of funding the closure; Sanders voted against the money needed to shut down the prison.
The New York Times called the Senate vote a "strong rebuke of the Obama White House."
Sanders said he voted against funding to close the facility in Cuba — despite voting differently on a related measure in 2007 — because he wants a clear and thorough examination of why the roughly 240 prisoners there are being held and an accounting of what will happen to them.
"A couple of years ago I was one of the few to vote against a resolution dealing with Guantanamo because I wanted to make it very clear that I believed that (President) Bush's decision to keep Guantanamo open was a disaster for the image of the United States and for our entire foreign policy," Sanders said.
"I agree with President Obama that Guantanamo must be shut down," he added, "and in my view should be shut down as soon as possible. I want to make absolutely certain that torture is never again part of America's interrogation practices and all detainees are treated under the rules of the Geneva Convention."
But before funding the closure of Guantanamo is approved, a commission examining issues such as why the detainees of the camp were taken there, whether their status as enemy combatants is legitimate and what will happen to them should complete its work, Sanders said.
"I think it is prudent to review the plan they develop before we spend $80 million of taxpayers' money," he said. "A number of important questions remain unanswered about the rather complicated issue of not only how you close down the facility — you can close down a facility in five minutes — but what you do with the prisoners."
For similar reasons he will likely vote against the underlying war funding bill when it comes before the Senate, perhaps as early as today, Sanders said.
"I don't believe we are seeing the kind of exit strategy we need for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
"Whether it is George Bush or Barack Obama, my job is to take a hard look at the plans that an administration brings forth," Sanders said. "I happen to be a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but that doesn't mean he is right on every issue."
Leahy was one of the six senators voting with Obama on the matter.
Leahy "believes it would be a mistake to start negating options before we know what the options are," said David Carle, a Leahy spokesman. [Continue reading the Porter article here.]
H/T to Blurt/Shay Totten, who also reports the Sanders - Leahy split.