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Defense bill gives Obama rare Guantanamo victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many detainees at Guantanamo Bay may be closer to heading home under a bipartisan deal reached in Congress that gives President Barack Obama a rare victory in his fight to close the prison for terror suspects.

The compromise is part of a broad defense bill awaiting final passage in the Senate this week. The House approved the measure last Thursday. It’s the first time since Obama came to office promising to close Guantanamo that Congress is moving to ease restrictions instead of strengthen them. And it could signal changing political views of the prison for terrorism suspects now that the war in Afghanistan is winding down.

Obama’s achievement was somewhat a surprise, after the Republican-controlled House earlier this year voted overwhelmingly to make it harder to transfer detainees. But the deal to move in the opposite direction passed with hardly any opposition and little attention — perhaps overshadowed by more prominent defense bill debates over Iran sanctions, military sexual assaults and spying by the National Security Agency.

But even with the deal, Obama still faces big obstacles to closing Guantanamo. Congress has effectively blocked him from doing so for his first five years in office, and he faces declining clout in his final three. Yet the president seems determined as part of his legacy to push for closure of the prison he argues never should have been opened and “has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.”