President Obama Is Determined to Close Gitmo

Perhaps because none of the 2016 presidential candidates are talking about it, I haven’t seen much in the media about this:

Facing a potential showdown with Congress, the Pentagon is racing to move dozens of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in coming months before lawmakers can block future transfers and derail President Obama’s plan to shutter the U.S. military prison.

As a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June. In all, the Pentagon hopes that 57 inmates who are approved for transfer will be resettled by the end of 2015. That would require “large muscle movements” by at least two countries, which officials hope will each agree to take in 10 to 20 Yemeni detainees, who cannot be repatriated because of security conditions in their war-torn homeland.

The potential showdown with Congress they are referring is that Sen. Ayotte is sponsoring a bill that would extend the current ban on bringing prisoners to the United States and effectively bar transfers to other countries. Of course President Obama could veto such a bill – unless, as we’ve seen in previous years, it was part of the Pentagon’s omnibus budget appropriation.

What’s interesting is that the President is currently working on an alternative with Sen. Ayotte’s best buddy, Sen. McCain.

The White House is drafting a plan that officials hope will receive the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as an alternate to Ayotte’s measure. McCain has previously expressed openness to shutting the prison.

But it’s far from certain, even with McCain’s backing, that lawmakers would fall in behind the White House’s plan, which would allow detainees to be brought to the United States for trial or detention and would enable the continued transfer of others to foreign nations.

“It’s looking very difficult,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and a leading advocate for allowing prisoners to be brought to the United States. “I don’t see what changes minds or persuades people at this point,” he said. “But that’s what [the White House] is attempting to do.”

If that were to fail:

In the event that Congress does pass legislation that would freeze Guantanamo Bay’s population, currently at 122, White House officials are exploring options for the unilateral closure of the prison and moving detainees into the United States, an action that Congress has opposed from the president’s first months in office.

Notice that they are “exploring options for the unilateral closure.” So it’s clear they don’t have a plan yet. But do you get the idea this President is serious about this? One way or the other he is determined to have this blight on the reputation of the United States closed before he leaves office.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.