President Obama’s vague plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison looks like a political surrender, because it relies on unlikely action by a GOP-led Congress dead set against closing the facility and moving any of the 91 remaining detainees to the United States.
By going through the motions of working with Congress, Obama’s plan promises to go nowhere – which is just as well.
Congress has left Obama with few paths toward his 2008 campaign goal of closing the facility. Federal law prohibits moving any Gitmo detainees to the United States without the consent of Congress, and bars spending on such a transfer or preparation of U.S. facilities to house detainees.
As the president said again Tuesday, the federal judicial system has proved its ability to handle terrorism suspects, lessening any perceived need for an offshore prison and court where enemy combatants can be denied due process and other rights.
Gitmo’s record isn’t one of successful adjudication of terrorism cases either – 779 detainees since 2002, with 678 released or transferred to other countries, and just eight tried and convicted of war crimes.
But all these years later, Gitmo no longer seems like the propaganda symbol and terrorist recruitment tool it once was, as Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and others have argued.
And though Congress ordinarily might be receptive to Obama’s talk of saving $65 million to $85 million a year, and much more in one-time and long-term savings, closing Gitmo also could cost $290 million to $475 million.
On Tuesday Obama identified no specific U.S. prison that he’d like to see accept 30 to 60 detainees. But Fort Leavenworth in northeast Kansas has been among the sites considered by the Pentagon – an idea condemned by the state’s congressional delegation, Gov. Sam Brownback, local leaders and others. If the rhetoric has seemed excessive – it wasn’t as if terrorists would be let loose in Kansas neighborhoods – no Gitmo shutdown and transfer should occur over such strong local objections.
Predictably, the Kansans in Congress lashed out at the administration’s 21-page plan Tuesday, with Pompeo calling it “dead on arrival” and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., posting a video of himself crumpling it up and throwing it into a trash can.
Obama’s feeble last play to close Gitmo may ensure that the facility and its dwindling detainees become the next administration’s problem. It also may spare Americans more partisan fighting and fearmongering over the issue, which has lost its urgency and potency amid confounding new terrorism threats in the Middle East and domestically.