Obama to take last shot at closing Gitmo
After embarrassing false starts, U.S. President Barack Obama is making a final push to close Guantanamo prison, but to fulfill that glaringly incomplete campaign promise he faces unpalatable compromises and internal resistance.
When the U.S. Congress returns from recess in September, Obama’s top counterterror advisor Lisa Monaco and Defense Secretary Ash Carter will submit a fresh plan to shutter the infamous 13-year-old facility.
As a candidate and as U.S. president, Obama promised to close Gitmo, arguing indefinite detention, “enhanced interrogation” and images of caged men in orange jump suits violated America’s ethos and handed militants a potent recruiting tool.
But ensconced in the Oval Office, he quickly became ensnared in a legal and political thicket.
Six years on, with the clock running down on his presidency, Obama will take another crack.
The plan, which is now virtually complete, would lift Congressional restrictions on transferring detainees to the United States.
The administration is looking at military facilities like Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or the Navy Brig in Charleston, South Carolina as pos- sible destinations for inmates. That may raise objections from hostile local politicians.
But a more substantial roadblock might be the fate of future terror captives and as few as a dozen of the 116 inmates now at Guantanamo deemed too dangerous to release but too difficult to prosecute.
Already critics are warning that Obama’s proposals to amend preventive detention cannot allow a category of indefinite detainees in an indefinite war on terror.
Senator John McCain, who opened the door to Obama’s plan being heard by Congress, backs Guantanamo’s closure, but wants guarantees inmates will not be given more rights than they already have.
Still, the fate of the remaining bulk of prisoners has exposed divisions within the administration that may yet make closing Guantanamo impossible on Obama’s watch.
The plan is expected to quicken the pace of hearings for those inmates who are not among the 52 already approved for transfer.
But even those approved have languished.
All but nine of them are from Yemen, which is now in the throes of a civil war.
The particular fate of two men already approved for transfer has led to allegations that Obama’s Department of Defense has been dragging its heels, even after a row that contributed to Pentagon boss Chuck Hagel’s exit.
Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni currently on hunger strike, has been cleared for release since 2009.
Sources familiar with deliberations inside the administration say the Department of Defense is concerned his release may encourage or reward similar hunger protests.
And despite a request from London, the Department of Defense has also been reluctant to release Shaker Aamer, allegedly over concern about what he may reveal about operations at Guantanamo.
The Pentagon says Guantanamo must be closed in a “responsible manner that protects our national security.”
Even if all this is resolved, Obama faces an election-season political battle to get the Republican controlled Congress to back, or at least not scuttle, the deal.
After Obama’s political victories in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, trade with Asia, health care, gay rights and re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, few would bet against the outgoing president.
But Guantanamo, one of the first items on his desk when he took office, may yet remain one of the last when he leaves.