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.

In­ter­nal Wran­gling

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.

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