You Can Forget About Obama’s Promise To Close The Guantanamo Bay Prison
Earlier this week, the Senate passed a military spending bill that appears to guarantee that President Obama will be unable to fulfill his campaign promise to close the prison at the Naval Base at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba that has held War On Terror prisoners for more than a decade now:
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday approved an annual military policy bill, and the White House spokesman said President Obama would sign it despite provisions that will make it extremely difficult for him to fulfill his promise of closing the terrorist detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The military measure, which passed in a 91-to-3 vote, includes provisions that ban the transfer of prisoners to United States soil, which has long been a core component of the administration’s plan to shut the prison.
Mr. Obama hadvetoed a previous version of the military measure as part of a larger fight over spending that was settled late last month. The House approved the new version of the military bill last week, 370 to 58, reflecting overwhelming bipartisan support.
The bill bans bringing Guantánamo detainees to the United States even for prosecution or continued detention in another prison and tightens restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries. Mr. Obama’s plan to close the prison involves transferring 53 of the remaining detainees and bringing the other 61 to a prison on American soil.
Closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay is an unfulfilled promise of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and the White House press secretary, Joshua Earnest, said on Tuesday that the administration would continue to press that goal.
Noting that Congress has previously adopted similar language banning the transfer of prisoners, Mr. Earnest said: “I don’t think this has any material impact on our ability to put together and send to Congress a thoughtful, carefully considered plan for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and a plan that we believe merits the strong support of both Democrats and Republicans.”
Senate Republicans, however, indicated that there was little support for the administration’s plans, and they warned pointedly against any unilateral effort by the White House.
“Even when the Democrats controlled the Senate, there have been provisions that have prohibited the transfer of the terrorist detainees at Guantánamo to the United States of America,” Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, said at a news conference in the Capitol. “So this discussion that you’ve seen from the administration to say that the president is contemplating an executive order on this issue clearly would violate the law.”
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said voters should respond to the White House by electing a Republic president.
“The American people need to send a message by sending a new president a little over a year from now with a different view of what ought to be done in this country,” Mr. McConnell said. “It is very, very difficult to think of anything this administration hasn’t screwed up whether at home or abroad.”
The White House has indicated that President Obama will sign the spending bill notwithstanding the provision regarding Guantanamo Bay prisoners, so this matter will become law and is likely to remain so for the remainder of the President’s time in office. Most likely, this means that the plans that the President announced via an Executive Order signed on the day he took office in 2009 to close the prison, and which have been blocked by bipartisan majorities in Congress virtually every years since then, will go unfulfilled. The Administration isn’t admitting this, of course, and is instead suggesting that they will eventually present Congress with some kind of a plan that would deal with the remaining prisoners in the facility. However, it seems highly unlikely that whatever plan the Administration comes up with will satisfy the bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate that have long opposed any effort to close the prison and move prisoners to facilities in the United States or elsewhere.
Over the years, the number of prisoners has declined from where it was when the President took office, in no small part because the United States has been moving forward with a program that identifies prisoners eligible for release for one reason or another and seeks to relocate them either to their home countries or to other nations that are willing to take them. In the past, for example, this program has resulted in some prisoners being relocated to nations in South America and other locations far away from the Middle East and Afghanistan. This program has been a slow process, though, in no small part because of the political considerations involved and in any case may not be completed before President Obama leaves office in January 2017. Even with this program, though, the Administration has identified a core group of prisoners that are likely to never be released, including many of the people involved in planning the September 11th attacks and other attacks on American and other Western targets. This list includes people like Khalid Shiekh Mohammed, the main planner of the September 11th attacks. For these people, the Guantamo facility will either need to be kept operational indefinitely or they would have to be relocated to a military or civilian facility somewhere in the United States. As noted, however, there is widespread bipartisan opposition to the idea of putting prisoners like this anywhere in the United States and that seems unlikely to change. Because of that, and as was noted in the wake of the controversial decision to exchange five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl, the prison is unlikely to ever close. This bill would seem to guarantee that, at least for the remainder of President Obama’s time in office, and likely long thereafter, the prison facility will remain open.