Republican senators on Tuesday introduced new legislation to clamp down on President Obama’s ability to transfer terror suspects out of Guantanamo Bay, calling for a “time out” on releasing detainees in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire introduced the far-reaching legislation to “extend and enhance prohibitions and limitations” on transferring or releasing Guantanamo prisoners.
She cited the steady stream of detainees allegedly tied to Al Qaeda who have been transferred in recent months. Many of the remaining prisoners are from Yemen, which she called the “wild West” for terrorists.
“It’s clear that we need a time out,” she said.
A Yemeni government official briefed on the investigation into last week’s terror attacks in France told Fox News that one of the suspects in that attack met with American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011 at an Al Qaeda camp.
The Yemen connection has raised new concerns about transfers to that country and elsewhere, and GOP senators who joined Ayotte on Tuesday said the Paris attack shows that governments are limited in their ability to monitor suspects.
Joining Ayotte in backing the measure were Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona; Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina; and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The measure would repeal current law that has allowed the administration to transfer prisoners to foreign countries and reduce the population at Guantanamo to 127. The bill also would prohibit transfers of terror suspects to foreign countries if there has been a confirmed case where an individual was transferred from Guantanamo and engaged in any terrorist activity. It would specifically bar transfers to Yemen for two years.
Further, the bill would prohibit the transfer of terror suspects considered to be high-risk or medium-risk – some of the recently transferred detainees fell into those categories.
The administration is currently conducting an assessment of all detainees at the facility, and is almost certain to oppose the Senate legislation.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said closing the facility is “in the clear national security interest” of the country.
“That continues to be the goal that this administration has,” Earnest said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf echoed the White House in calling it a security priority to close the prison camp. Asked about the specific legislation, she said, "that's not something we think is going to help us close Guantanamo" and stressed the importance of working with other countries to transfer detainees.
Obama has pushed to close Guantanamo since his inauguration in January 2009, but has faced strong opposition from congressional Republicans and some Democrats who argued that the facility is the best location for terror suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Past laws have repeatedly included provisions barring any transfer of terror suspects to U.S. prisons.
The administration has been transferring detainees cleared for movement to other countries. Five men who were held for a dozen years without charge at Guantanamo were sent to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan for resettlement in late December.
Nearly 30 prisoners were resettled in third countries last year as part of Obama's renewed push to close the detention center.
The Senate measure also would bar the use of any government funds, whether in the budget for the Defense Department or in any other agency, to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house terror suspects.
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and The Associated Press contributed to this report.