By Patricia Zengerle


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would bar any transfers of detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison while President Barack Obama is president or until he signs a new defense policy bill.


The measure passed by 244 to 174, largely along party lines, with all but four Republicans backing it and all but 12 of Obama's fellow Democrats opposed.


The White House has promised to veto the measure. It also faces tough odds in the Senate, where it would need Democratic support as well as Republican backing to progress.


Obama vowed that he would close the controversial detention center at the base in Cuba as he first campaigned for the White House in 2008.


He has failed to keep that promise, facing opposition, mostly from Republicans but also some Democrats, in Congress.

Advocates for closing the prison say it costs too much to operate, contravenes U.S. values by holding prisoners, all Muslims, for years without trial, and serves as a propaganda tool for militant groups.

Republicans say Guantanamo is an important tool in the fight against terrorism. They say prisoner transfers are a security threat, pointing to reports that some of the hundreds released during the prison's 15-year-long history have returned to the battlefield.

The U.S. government said on Wednesday that two more militants released from Guantanamo had returned to fighting. Washington has confirmed that a total of nine ex-detainees have rejoined militant groups since Obama took office, according to a report by the Office of Director of National Intelligence.

Obama has recently accelerated releases, fueling concerns by prison supporters that he might use his executive powers to close it altogether before leaving office in January.

The United States opened the Guantanamo detention facility in 2002, months after the Sept. 11 attacks by Islamist militants on New York and Washington, to hold what it described as foreign terrorism suspects. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.

There are currently about 60 prisoners at the base.

The bill would stop transfers only until Obama leaves office in January or signs a new National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill setting defense policy. Obama has threatened to veto versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate this year.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish)