Obama Says He’ll Try To Close Guantanamo Prison Again

President Obama said today that he wants to move forward with closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay but there's little he can do on his own.


At his press conference today, President Obama said that he will make an effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay again despite the fact that his previous effort ended in failure:

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday to make a new push to close the Guantanamo detention center, where about 100 inmates are on hunger strike, saying it was damaging to U.S. interests to keep holding prisoners there in legal limbo.

Human rights groups have long been critical of the 12-year-old camp for foreign terrorism suspects, and their concern has intensified in recent weeks. Some of those on hunger strike are being force-fed at the camp at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.

Obama, who repeatedly vowed to close the camp, which now holds 166 detainees, when he was campaigning for a first term and when he first took office in 2009, said he would re-engage with lawmakers to find a way to shut the facility and make good on an unkept promise.

However, he offered no new path to overcoming congressional, political and legal obstacles that blocked his earlier efforts to close Guantanamo, where many of the prisoners have been held for more than a decade without being tried or charged.

“It’s not sustainable – I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity,” Obama told a White House news conference.

Long a subject of international condemnation, Guantanamo has returned to the spotlight with the hunger strike. Some inmates have given harrowing accounts of force-feeding.

Obama defended the U.S. military’s decision to force-feed hunger strikers, saying “I don’t want these individuals to die.”

He ticked off a list of reasons why the camp should be shut down.

“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” Obama said. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

These are the same things that the President was saying about Guantanamo Bay before he was elected, of course, and when he signed that Executive Order that was supposed to result in the prison being shut down. What actually happened, of course, is that the President’s plan ran headlong into opposition from Members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, who objected both to the idea of repatriating prisoners to the countries of origin and the idea of finding some location in the Continental United States where the remaining prisoners could be held. When push came to shove, Congress simply exercised its power of the purse and refused to fun any effort to close the prison, and Obama gave up on the initiative.

All of those same factors still exist today. Members of the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle are still likely to object to any effort to move Gitmo prisoners to the United States, and they will still control the purse strings. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to me to be any massive groundswell of support among the American public for the idea of closing the prison down, so it seems unlikely that the President can rely on popular pressure on Congress to get the job done. In many ways, he’ll once again be all alone on this issue just has he was at the beginning of his first term. Given those circumstances, wow, exactly, is President Obama supposed to get anything accomplished vis a vis Guantanamo. I don’t see any realistic possibility he’ll be able to accomplish anything on this issue.

As for the merits of the issue, I find myself conflicted. It’s troubling that there are so many people being held in what is essentially a state of legal limbo for an indefinite period of time. It’s even more troubling that of the roughly 160 people still held there, some 86 have been conditionally cleared for repatriation but remain in custody because there cases haven’t been heard yet. Of the rest, the military tribunals that are meant to handle the cases of men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have been moving at a glacial pace. Had these men been put on trial in a civilian court, a move that the Obama Administration did controversially try to make several years ago, I think its safe to say that their trials would be over by now and their appeals process would be moving rapidly forward. Instead, their proceedings are being conducted in secret and don’t seem to be going anywhere. At the same time, though, I’m not sure it’s wise to have these men held anywhere on the US mainland.

Ideally, what we need to be doing is processing the legal cases of these prisoners. The ones who have been cleared for repatriation should be sent home as quickly as possible, and the ones who are designated for military tribunals should have their cases moved through the system at a far more judicious pace than we’ve seen so far. To a large extent, the fact that there hasn’t been movement in either of these areas is the fault of the Obama Administration since the processing of the cases is fully within the control of the military and the Administration. Regardless of whose fault it is, though, it’s well beyond time that something be done about this stain upon the Constitution. Realistically, though, there’s very little that President Obama is going to be able to do here other than moving the legal process forward, which is what he should have been doing for the past four years.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Not much he can do with cowards in Congress that have no faith in the Constitution.
    So afraid of the dark-skinned men and boys…pathetic.

  2. Franklin says:

    Read the piece on Mohamedou Ould Slahi at slate.com today and weep for your country.

  3. john personna says:

    Texas two-step: Don’t allow Obama to close Guantanamo, Blame Obama for not closing Guantanamo.

    (It was a “promise!”)

  4. CB says:

    We’ll see a big PR push to close the prison, we’ll argue for a month or two, NIMBY will rear its ugly head, and we will continue to indefinitely house uncharged ‘combatants’ forever, in a virtual media blackout.

    Im with Franklin. It makes me want to weep.

  5. ptfe says:

    “At the same time, though, I’m not sure it’s wise to have these men held anywhere on the US mainland.”

    Care to elaborate on this? In what way would holding them on the US mainland change their situation, beyond acknowledging that we don’t plan to do anything with them? Do you think they’re going to escape from a federal maximum-security prison? Do all prisoners now get a drone with an attached arsenal to fly around while they’re sitting in their cell in Indiana? Does Freedom Air blowing across the plains make them just want to escape, while the wretched smell of Cuban poverty doesn’t?

    This is the sort of fear-mongering that keeps Guantanamo open: the bizarre idea that prisoners are dangerous over here but not in Cuba. If they’re guilty of something, we should be trying and convicting them in criminal courts, which means moving them to the mainland and housing them on the mainland. If they can’t be proven guilty in a court of law, we need to let them go.

    If that ultimately means we let them go in the US, that’s our own special present to ourselves for having such a crappy way of dealing with the situation in the first place. Give them a special Holy Shit We Took Away Your Life Needlessly And We’d Really Like It If You Didn’t Blow Anything Up passport. We took them from wherever they were in the first place; we shouldn’t expect that their home countries will pick up after us and repatriate them after we fwck up. What, do you think Turkey doesn’t know how dangerous it is to take back some guy who was living in Iraq 10 years ago, got swept up in a house-to-house raid, and has been rotting in a jail cell since then without charge? Tell me who shit in that bowl.

  6. stonetools says:

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans have pandered disgracefully to the paranoid set on this (although the Republicans much more, as usual).

    I expect them to pander in the same way again, despite current proof that the civilian courts and prisons can well handle trying terrorists. Still, gotta give Obama points for tryng.

  7. NickTamere says:

    At the same time, though, I’m not sure it’s wise to have these men held anywhere on the US mainland.

    Counterpoint: we’re telling Al Qaeda et al that we’re so scared of these bogeymen that we need to hide them overseas, out of view of the rule of law. and we will shred our Constitution and discard our (stated) values to do so.

  8. Tony W says:

    Ugly situation – we cannot continue to kick the can down the road on this. I am glad this president is trying again, hopefully he will make the case that America is strong enough to try, convict and punish anybody who deserves it.

    It’s a much harder case to make, by the way, that America is strong enough to try, fail to convict, and release those who do not.

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    At the same time, though, I’m not sure it’s wise to have these men held anywhere on the US mainland.

    Because…why? Their superpowers will only be activated upon contact with American soil?

  10. Tyrell says:

    I know that Obama has a lot on his list, most of it foreign affairs. But what about Benghazi? What is going on with that ?

  11. Kylopod says:

    I have one possible idea about how Democrats can win on this issue. They need to take a page from the playbook of Republicans who pursue unpopular policies: lie about what their position is and transfer its most hated elements to the other side.

    It’s like when Republicans pushed a plan to eliminate Medicare in all but name, all the while claiming to be saving Medicare from Democrats who sought to kill your grandma. Similarly, Democrats should start saying that the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been taken over by radical Muslims who are kidnapping good ol’ boys from Alabama and Mississippi and torturing them till the sun goes down. Defenders of the prison, why do you hate America? Why are you siding with America’s enemies and backing the persecution of Jeff Foxworthy’s brother who also happens to be his cousin? Why do you favor a prison in Cuba over one in real America? Make our country safe from radicals–close Gitmo.

  12. Surreal American says:

    Is it still beyond the pale to consider closing Guantanamo and giving the whole territory back to Cuba? Ok, just checking the limits of permissibility in American political discourse. Carry on.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:


    But what about Benghazi? What is going on with that ?

    Nothing is, was, or ever will be. Why is that nothing burger of a nontroversy still rattling around the empty confines of your skull?

  14. markm says:

    ….is this before or after he pivots to the economy/jobs again?.

  15. Barry says:

    “When push came to shove, Congress simply exercised its power of the purse and refused to fun any effort to close the prison, and Obama gave up on the initiative.”

    Use secret funds – I’m willing to bet that there are super-discretionary secret money.
    Do it anyway, and claim ‘war on terror’ powers – this would actually be good.
    Have somebody file an appeal, and refuse to defend.

  16. Barry says:

    @Rafer Janders: “Because…why? Their superpowers will only be activated upon contact with American soil? ”

    Well, they’re ‘anti-American’, so………….

  17. Barry says:

    This is why I’d love to see some right-wing domestic terrorists sent there (like Eric Rudolph). Transfer him secretly, claim to have no record of the transfer, and torture question the sh*t out of him. Refuse to return him, pointing to the prohibition on transferring prisoners.

    It’d be an act of justice, and the right just might change their minds. Besides, he clearly had help, and a little torture ‘enhanced interrogation’ would open his mouth.

  18. anjin-san says:

    But what about Benghazi? What is going on with that ?

    Nothing. Except Fox flogging it to whip the not-very-bright into a pointless frenzy.

    How are things in dullsville?

  19. Argon says:

    Keep in mind that we don’t take suspects any more, we just ‘drone’ them instead to get around the problem.