Charlie Savage at the NYT:
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.
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.”
The White House insists it is still determined to shutter the prison. The administration argues that Guantánamo is a symbol in the Muslim world of past detainee abuses, citing military views that its continued operation helps terrorists.
Polls suggest that the majority of Americans want Guantanamo Bay to remain open in the wake of the attempted terrorists attacks on Times Square and a Detroit-bound airliner. Congress, according to the White House, hasn’t moved quickly on its plan to move detainees to an Illinois prison. And Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial decision to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York even upset top White House adviser Rahm Emanuel, who argued that such a trial would alienate Republicans and prevent the closure of Guantanamo Bay.
Confronted with these problems — as well as the McCrystal flap, worsening economic numbers, and the ongoing Gulf Coast oil spill — the White House may have decided to simply punt on Guantanamo after all. Top officials told The New York Times that the president’s ‘magic wand’ was incapable of providing the administration any other alternative.
The “wave a wand” gripe should elicit loud peals of laughter from both sides of the aisle. Barack Obama’s critics on his Gitmo position made that very same point repeatedly, both before the 2008 presidential election and after Obama made his order to close Gitmo his first official act as President. Any such move required the President to find a different and yet still suitable detention facility, one where foreign terrorists captured by military and intelligence personnel would have separate adjudication from Americans in normal criminal courts, and one which could be secured properly for its purpose. It would then have to contemplate the costs and benefits of such a move when in the end the detainees would end up using the very same processes they currently have for adjudication.
If Congress has dragged its feet, it’s only because no one can really explain how closing Gitmo while retaining the military commissions systems justifies the costs and the risks. The issue the Left has with Gitmo isn’t its geographical location, after all. When Obama committed to using the military commissions system to process the rest of the detainees in Gitmo, he himself mooted the necessity of closing it. And for good reason — the use of criminal courts to try foreign terrorists in military or intel contexts would either result in botched prosecutions, or in changing the rules that protect American residents against undue prosecutorial power in criminal court.
The only one waving a wand on Gitmo was Obama himself. And now he hopes to wave another wand in a Friday night news dump to keep his Left from erupting in outrage over Obama’s white flag on Gitmo. Best of luck with that, Mr. President.
So that appears to be a consensus: Guantanamo — the closing of which was one of Obama’s central campaign promises — will still be open as of 2013, by which point many of the detainees will have been imprisoned for more than a decade without charges of any kind and without any real prospect for either due process or release, at least four of those years under a President who was elected on a commitment to close that camp and restore the rule of law.
None of this is news to anyone even casually watching what’s been going on, but there are several aspects of this article which are so noteworthy for illustrating how this administration works. Let’s begin with this: Obama officials — cowardly hiding behind anonymity as usual — raise the typical excuse which they and their defenders perpetually invoke for their “failures” to fulfill their campaign positions: it’s all Congress’ fault (“They blame Congress for failing to execute that endgame,” Savage writes). It’s true that Congress has enacted measures to impede the closing of Guantanamo, and threatened to enact others, but the Obama administration’s plan was never so much to close Guantanamo as to simply re-locate it to Thompson, Illinois (GTMO North), in the process retaining one of its key, defining features — indefinite, due-process-free detention — that made it such a menace in the first place (that’s the attribute that led Candidate Obama to scorn it as a “legal black hole”).
The only meaningful way to “close Guantanamo” is to release the scores of detainees whom the administration knows are innocent and then try the rest in a real court (as Pakistan just did with Americans they accused of Terrorism). Imprisoning only those people whom you convict of crimes is a terribly radical, purist, Far Leftist concept, I know — the Fifth Amendment is so very un-Pragmatic and pre-9/11 — and that is something the administration therefore refused from the start even to consider.
Let’s stagger down memory lane to Day Three of Hope and Change:
President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.
Gitmo was a deplorable symbol of this and that, until actually resolving the situation became too complicated. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts:
In any case, one senior official said, even if the administration concludes that it will never close the prison, it cannot acknowledge that because it would revive Guantánamo as America’s image in the Muslim world.
“Guantánamo is a negative symbol, but it is much diminished because we are seen as trying to close it,” the official said. “Closing Guantánamo is good, but fighting to close Guantánamo is O.K. Admitting you failed would be the worst.”
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.