Since I keep bumping into “Well, Obama hasn’t closed Guantanamo, so that means he didn’t want to close it,” I want to address that briefly. The short answer is that Congress passed a law in 2010 that prevents the Defense Department from transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for any reason. This doesn’t leave the President with many options.
– President Obama came into office in January 2009, and two days after his inauguration, he signs his first executive order, calling for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay within one year.
– Less than five months later, Congress â€” controlled by Democrats â€” votes overwhelmingly to neutralize that executive order, and to keep Gitmo open, by choking off the funds needed to enact the executive order by building new facilities, seeking deportations, etc. The vote in the Senate was 90 to 6.
– In November 2009, the Obama administration tried another tack: they plan to move 100 remaining Gitmo detainees (not including KSM and other 9/11 direct suspects) to an all-but abandoned, state-of-the-art prison in Illinois. The rural town wanted the deal, and the jobs that would come with it. Again, the deal was blocked, and demogogued, by Congressional Republicans, and as of today, the â€œGitmo Northâ€ plan seems to be dead on arrival.
And then came the 2010 law, and there’s not much else President Obama can do other than get some other country to take them or turn them all loose. This is as good a one-blog-post summary of the mess as I’ve found anywhere. It shows the White House making a sincere effort to close Guantanamo but being repeatedly blocked by Congress, in particular Democrats in Congress.
Now, one could argue that the White House could have handled Congress better — we can always argue that — but reviewing what actually happened, I have to agree with the blogger that it is grossly disingenuous to conclude that Obama didn’t want to close Guantanamo.
And if he appears to have given up for the moment, I don’t blame him. This is not a fight to pick this close to the elections. Outside of us hard-core liberals there is not much pubic support for closing Guantanamo, I suspect. This may not be a fight that any first-term president could be expected to win.