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Gitmo Not Closing After All

The NYT is reporting what has been obvious for some time:  the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will be remaining open indefinitely.

Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantánamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.

Note that he initially promised to close it within a year. He’s now breaking his revised promise.

When the White House acknowledged last year that it would miss Mr. Obama’s initial January 2010 deadline for shutting the prison, it also declared that the detainees would eventually be moved to one in Illinois. But impediments to that plan have mounted in Congress, and the administration is doing little to overcome them.

“There is a lot of inertia” against closing the prison, “and the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see,” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and supports the Illinois plan. He added that “the odds are that it will still be open” by the next presidential inauguration.

And Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who also supports shutting it, said the effort is “on life support and it’s unlikely to close any time soon.” He attributed the collapse to some fellow Republicans’ “demagoguery” and the administration’s poor planning and decision-making “paralysis.”

In fairness, it’s not just Republican opposition but a political re-calculation on the part of the administration.

The politics of closing the prison have clearly soured following the attempted bombings on a plane on Dec. 25 and in Times Square in May, as well as Republican criticism that imprisoning detainees in the United States would endanger Americans. When Mr. Obama took office a slight majority supported closing it. By a March 2010 poll, 60 percent wanted it to stay open.

One administration official argued that the White House was still trying. On May 26, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, James Jones, sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee reiterating the case.

But Mr. Levin portrayed the administration as unwilling to make a serious effort to exert its influence, contrasting its muted response to legislative hurdles to closing Guantánamo with “very vocal” threats to veto financing for a fighter jet engine it opposes.

Last year, for example, the administration stood aside as lawmakers restricted the transfer of detainees into the United States except for prosecution. And its response was silence several weeks ago, Mr. Levin said, as the House and Senate Armed Services Committees voted to block money for renovating the Illinois prison to accommodate detainees, and to restrict transfers from Guantánamo to other countries — including, in the Senate version, a bar on Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. About 130 of the 181 detainees are from those countries.

“They are not really putting their shoulder to the wheel on this issue,” Mr. Levin said of White House officials. “It’s pretty dormant in terms of their public positions.”

But it’s actually much more than running into domestic political obstacles.  There’s a real question as to what to do with some of the people at Gitmo. But that issue appears to be coming to resolution:

One category — detainees cleared for release who cannot be repatriated for their own safety — is on a path to extinction: allies have accepted 33, and just 22 await resettlement. Another — those who will be held without trials — has been narrowed to 48.

Still, the administration has faced a worsening problem in dealing with the prison’s large Yemeni population, including 58 low-level detainees who would already have been repatriated had they been from a more stable country, officials say.

The administration asked Saudi Arabia to put some Yemenis through a program aimed at rehabilitating jihadists but was rebuffed, officials said. And Mr. Obama imposed a moratorium on Yemen transfers after the failed Dec. 25 attack, planned by a Yemen-based branch of Al Qaeda whose members include two former Guantánamo detainees from Saudi Arabia.

The bottom line is that this is just very hard. It’s debatable as to whether the Bush Administration should ever have transferred jihadists and alleged jihadists from Afghanistan to Gitmo. But, once they did, reversing it became very difficult.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    “The politics of closing the prison have clearly soured following the attempted bombings on a plane on Dec. 25 and in Times Square in May, as well as Republican criticism that imprisoning detainees in the United States would endanger Americans. When Mr. Obama took office a slight majority supported closing it. By a March 2010 poll, 60 percent wanted it to stay open.”

    I supsect the change has to do with the closing of the prison becoming tied to bringing the detainees to the homeland. As I recall, the initial policy was to close Gitmo, with a commission to determine how to do it. In December of 2009, it was announced that they would be transferred to the Thomson Center in Illinois.

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  2. john personna says:

    “breaking” does not equal “stymied”

    Maybe when he promised, he thought the nation would have the balls to try these guys in US courts.

    (“oh no, we can’t have a terrorist in our town, even shackled hands and feet and surrounded by 100 marshals … it’s too scary.”)

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  3. Juneau: says:

    Maybe when he promised, he thought the nation would have the balls to try these guys in US courts.

    Obama hasn’t seen a promise yet that doesn’t come with an expiration date. In this case he’s actually doing the right thing. They don’t deserve to be tried in US courts. They’re enemy combatants.

    Many of the ones that have been released under pressure from the left have already killed again, or attempted to do so. Courage has nothing to do with it, and under the Geneva convention rules that apply, they could easily have been executed by the military under the rules of war. Life’s a bitch when you’re a muslim madman and you get caught.

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  4. john personna says:

    Even if they were all “enemy combatants” (with no innocents among them), why can’t you have them on US shores Juneau?

    Who made the rule that “enemy combatants” had to be held in a quasi-legal prison not exactly in any country?

    And then we get into how serious you think we need to be about that “enemy” classification.

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  5. john personna says:

    BTW, is the kidnapping of people out of their homes in the dead of night, based on a neighbor’s accusation, really sanctioned by the Geneva Convention?

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  6. Juneau: says:

    BTW, is the kidnapping of people out of their homes in the dead of night, based on a neighbor’s accusation, really sanctioned by the Geneva Convention?

    In wartime, yes. You know, it’s really tempting to go off on a serious rant at this point about how incredibly naive your position is, and how obvious it is that you are more than willing to shrug off the death of innocent Americans and soldiers, in order for you to feel some sort of moral superiority. So, here we go (as if it will make any difference).

    Our military takes more care, loses more lives, and is more conscientious about collateral casualties than probably any military force in the history of the world. But that’s not enough for people like you. Nothing will ever be enough for you. You want to sit back and smugly assure yourself that, since you believe all war is bad, it’s OK to support policies that mean more dead Americans in the prosecution of the war. All war is bad, so we should engage in as little of it as possible, even if the rules of engagement mean more American soldiers are killed.

    There is no such thing as moral relevancy. It’s a figment of the liberally-educated mind.

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  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    Juneau, abbreviated: “If you want to use our legal system as it was intended, you don’t support our troops!”

    That was a beautiful conflagration of ideas.

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  8. War and criminal actviity are not the same thing. Which commenters above seem to think they are?

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  9. Juneau: says:

    Juneau, abbreviated: “If you want to use our legal system as it was intended, you don’t support our troops!

    Nice try, unless you’re serious in which case it’s rather lame. Our legal system is not for prosecution of enemy combatants, or guerilla fighters (terrorists). Never has been. Nuremberg was a military trial. Military tribunals are used in wartime. Period.

    As far as the support our troops line you offer; the lack of support is this notion that some naive idea of civilian due process is proper for terrorists, even in the war theater. The “due process” obviously extends to the idea of how we prosecute the war, i.e. this “courageous restraint” idiocy put forth by Obama’s administration.

    That’s just another way of saying to the families of our soldiers, “Hey. It’s OK if your son or daughter is killed because we told them not to pull the trigger until they were sure they were about to be killed by the other guy. Getting killed because you had to triple-check the intent of the person pointing a gun at you, is pretty brave!”

    Stupidity doesn’t even begin to describe this nonsense.

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  10. PD Shaw says:

    “War and criminal actviity are not the same thing. Which commenters above seem to think they are?”

    Not me.

    Another question, at what point do the “war crimes” of George W. Bush, become the “war crimes” of Obama?

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  11. john personna says:

    The Geneva Convention:

    “Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”

    http://deoxy.org/wc/wc-proto.htm

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  12. Juneau: says:

    Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

    Are you intentionally being silly, or is it a result of your cognitive processes? Buddy, even our civilian legal system allows people to get “No Knock” warrants served on them in the dead of night. You know, where they kick your door down and burst in, throwing everyone out of bed and onto the floor? The idea that the Geneva convention precludes someone from being taken out of their house based on an informant’s report, is just more naive nonsense.

    If you think this has been done without just reason in the case of Gitmo detainees or Iraqis or Afghanis, then please state your case. If you think that it has been wrongfully done in some instances, your probably right. Just like innocent people here in the US are wrongfully charged by Law Enforcement officers. Or killed in midnight raids when they really mess up. But you know what, life sucks sometimes and nothing will change that.

    And the fact that life can suck doesn’t mean that our soldiers and civilians need to die just so you folks can feel good about yourselves. They should have found a better class of people to associate with.

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  13. just me says:

    Personally I think the promise was made before he really had enough facts to make the promise. I don’t really consider it a promise broken so much as a recognition of the reality of who is there and that there really isn’t an easy ansswer that can be made in a nice concise soundbite.

    I think some in the GOP will use it against him as a “you promised this, but didn’t follow through” but I figure most of the criticism for this issue is going to come from the left who want the place shut down.

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  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***”The President has kept all of the promises he intended to keep” Clinton aide George Stephanopolous***

    Words of wisdom that still ring true today!

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  15. PD Shaw says:

    john personna,

    The United States did not ratify Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.

    http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1987/012987b.htm

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  16. john personna says:

    You know Juneau, a little while ago you said “They’re enemy combatants.”

    Just now you said “If you think that it has been wrongfully done in some instances, your probably right. ”

    Oh God, then you go off the rails, “t. Just like innocent people here in the US are wrongfully charged by Law Enforcement officers. Or killed in midnight raids when they really mess up. But you know what, life sucks sometimes and nothing will change that.

    And the fact that life can suck doesn’t mean that our soldiers and civilians need to die just so you folks can feel good about yourselves. They should have found a better class of people to associate with.”

    That my friends, is what I’ve been talkin’ about.

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  17. steve says:

    “As far as the support our troops line you offer; the lack of support is this notion that some naive idea of civilian due process is proper for terrorists, even in the war theater.”

    Those who think everyone placed into Gitmo was a terrorist are naive. Many are there as the result of bounties. If we had decided to keep them there as POWs, we could have kept them there indefinitely without any legal conflicts or having to create a new class of prisoner.

    Then there is the strategic issue. What do we gain or lose by keeping them somewhere w/o trials? It is a source of friction in the Arab world and remains an issue used for recruiting. Placing them in a US jail and trying them as criminals rids that as an issue. Will some go free? Maybe, that is always a chance we take with our legal system, but the courts do have a better conviction rate and longer terms than the tribunals. Losing this as an issue for jihadists would far outweigh the risks of loosing a few more potential terrorists. Read Arab source newspapers and you can understand this better. Actually, you dont need to read the newspapers, just look at the editorial cartoons.

    Steve

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  18. Juneau: says:

    Those who think everyone placed into Gitmo was a terrorist are naive. Many are there as the result of bounties.

    Well then, ask yourself why Obama doesn’t have those poor innocent folk already back out on the streets?

    You cause is not justified, your judgement is not sound, and you have nothing to offer except the vague notion of “wrongs” that must (according to you) have been committed.

    Your logic doesn’t even track – how is convicting them and placing them in US jails going to be any more palatable to their raving Islamic lunatic friends than keeping them in Gitmo? You’re deluding yourselves, badly.

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  19. Juneau: says:

    Losing this as an issue for jihadists would far outweigh the risks of loosing a few more potential terrorists

    Oh,I get it. you just wanna’ be friends. If we just stop pi$$ing them off then maybe – just maybe – they will stop blowing up children, women, their fellow citizens, and American civilians. This is again naive silliness that flies in the face of what our own eyes show us everyday throughout the entire world. The “open hand” approach is sure working well with Iran, isn’t it?

    You can’t intellectualize your way out of a mugging, and you can’t argue your case with a terrorist. Are you so blind that you can’t understand this very simple concept? They will not stop until you give them exactly what they want – which is Islamic rule over society and the entire Middle East. Look at Great Britain for a perfect example of a western society that has catered to the Islamists. Do you really want sharia law here in the United States?

    A rabid dog just needs to be put down, before it bites anyone else. Simple concept, simple solution

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  20. [...] No, we can't: Obama mantendrá abierta Guantánamo de forma indefinida [ING] http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/gitmo-not-closing-after-all/  por spainispain hace 2 segundos [...]

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  21. [...] » noticia original [...]

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  22. Joe says:

    Obama yo are one “mariquita”

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