Obama and Gitmo. Again.


President Obama announced at a press conference the other day, seemingly out of the blue, that he intends to try again to get the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed down. The chances of getting that through Congress are slim and none, but there are some things he can do on his own. Here’s part of what he said:

Now, Congress determined that they would not let us close it. And despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo, who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country, I’m gonna go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I’m gonna reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.

And it’s not sustainable. I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, and we’re having success defeating Al Qaida core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these trans-national terrorist networks.

When we transfer detention authority in Afghanistan, the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests and it needs to stop…

But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this. Why are we doing this? I mean, we’ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country. Nothing’s happened to them. Justice has been served. It’s been done in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution; consistent with due process; consistent with rule of law; consistent with our traditions.

A lot of the blame for this goes to Congress for blocking the money to do move the prisoners anywhere, but as Benjamin Wittes points out, Obama is showing some serious hypocrisy here and ignoring his own role in the situation being what it is:

The President’s comments are bewildering because his own policies give rise to the vast majority of the concerns about which he so earnestly delivered himself in these remarks.

Remember that Obama himself has imposed a moratorium on repatriating people to Yemen. And Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.

True, he would hold such people in a domestic facility, rather than at Guantanamo Bay. But so what? does the President not understand when he frets about “the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity” that if Congress let him do exactly as he wished, he would still be doing exactly that—except that the number might not reach 100 and the location would not be at Guantanamo?

Obama has never had a coherent position on this issue. He’s had some great rhetoric about it, but his actions have not matched up with that rhetoric. I suspect this is because the ideals he professes conflict with the political calculations being made. There are dozens of prisoners at Gitmo who are innocent, who have been cleared by the courts for release but remain in custody. If they do release them to Yemen and one of them goes on to commit some horrible act of violence, perhaps because he’s been radicalized by a decade of torture and imprisonment at Gitmo, Obama knows that will kill him politically. And politics almost always wins out over principle.

Comments

  1. Ben P says

    I suspect this is because the ideals he professes conflict with the political calculations being made. There are dozens of prisoners at Gitmo who are innocent, who have been cleared by the courts for release but remain in custody. If they do release them to Yemen and one of them goes on to commit some horrible act of violence, perhaps because he’s been radicalized by a decade of torture and imprisonment at Gitmo, Obama knows that will kill him politically. And politics almost always wins out over principle.

    I suspect it may be even more than that.

    I would guess Obama’s principles lead him to believe that Gitmo is a bad thing. But both facts and politics get in the way. Sure some of the people in Gitmo may be effectively harmless, but several people there are also likely genuinely dangerous people, albeit ones we could not easily try in a US criminal court. It’s really hard to come up with criminal charges for someone who’s not a US citizen, never been in the US, and was captured by US troops (or even foreign troops) on the battlefield in a foreign country.

    It would be easy to call them prisoners of war, but then we have to answer the awkward “duration” question, because under the Geneva conventions a prisoner of war has to be released after the cessation of hostilities, and we may well decide that wouldn’t work.

    So I suspect that Obama may well want to close Gitmo, but he knows it’s politically impossible, and some of the details he’s learned about it, make it not as high of a priority as it might otherwise have been.

  2. naturalcynic says

    It’s really hard to come up with criminal charges for someone who’s not a US citizen, never been in the US, and was captured by US troops (or even foreign troops) on the battlefield in a foreign country.

    Not all of them were captured on the battlefield. Some of them ended up in Gitmo due to revenge in tribal squabbles or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time while looking suspicious.

  3. says

    I would guess Obama’s principles lead him to believe that Gitmo is a bad thing

    He doesn’t have principles. Or he would have refused to sign a budget until Congress found the money to close the place, during his first presidency, when he promised to. Instead he compromised. You know, “compromise” – what people without principles do?

  4. Johnny Vector says

    You know, “compromise” – what people without principles do?

    Well, unless your principles include “at least try to get something done rather than stand there forever like a North-going Zax”

    Mind you, I do think Obama could have done more, but your blanket statement that compromise indicates a lack of principles is pretty over the top.

  5. Who Knows? says

    And politics almost always wins out over principle.

    You know, “compromise” – what people without principles do?

    I don’t see what President Obama’s principles have to do with Gitmo. He didn’t come up with the idea, he didn’t open the prison, and I don’t know if he had sent anyone there during his administration. If you want to discuss principles and Gitmo, we need to talk about President G.W. Bush’s principles. His administration conceived, opened and populated the prison.

    Also, President Obama made a good faith effort at the beginning of his administration to close the prison at Gitmo and it seems to me it was the Republicans in Congress who led the campaign to turn public opinion against closing Gitmo and prevented its closure. How about talking about the principles of the members of Congress and the media who stood in the way of closing Gitmo?

    If they do release them to Yemen and one of them goes on to commit some horrible act of violence, perhaps because he’s been radicalized by a decade of torture and imprisonment at Gitmo, Obama knows that will kill him politically.

    This is worth discussing, the difficulties we face in closing Gitmo. It’s not unprincipled to consider what these prisoners might do once they are released. President Obama might actually be considering the victims of this hypothetical “horrible act of violence.” He doesn’t really strike me to be so callous as to not give weight to the possibility that releasing these prisoners might cost innocent lives. Even so, anyone in any career, weighs the impact on their personal future when deciding on a course of action. It’s not unprincipled to do so.

  6. says

    Who Knows? “This is worth discussing, the difficulties we face in closing Gitmo. It’s not unprincipled to consider what these prisoners might do once they are released.”
    This all falls under PreCrime, Winston Smith, which precedes PreTrial, PrePrison and PreExecution.

  7. lancifer says

    Does anybody think that one hundred or so more people that are motivated to hate America will make even a one part per million difference in the worldwide concentration of such individuals currently loose in the world?

    Let em go for chrisakes, if nothing else to save the millions of dollars spent on GITMO.

  8. says

    “You know, “compromise” – what people without principles do?”

    Not always. Sometimes it’s people without principles who DON’T compromise. See House of Representatives, 2008–????

  9. says

    I don’t see what President Obama’s principles have to do with Gitmo.

    There was the matter of the campaign promise to close gitmo. He promised that, and I voted for him because of it (and that he said he’d get us out of Afghanistan) He lied. He didn’t say “I’ll try really hard to close Gitmo” and he didn’t say “I’ll ask Congress to close Gitmo” he said he’d close Gitmo.

    When you promise something and don’t even give it a try, that’s unprinicpled behavior. Simple.

    He didn’t come up with the idea, he didn’t open the prison, and I don’t know if he had sent anyone there during his administration. If you want to discuss principles and Gitmo, we need to talk about President G.W. Bush’s principles. His administration conceived, opened and populated the prison.

    He has allowed it to continue. That nonsense about Congress not letting him close it is – nonsense. He could have done it with an executive order and let the chips fall where they will. He could have done it by telling Congress that he was going to veto everything they did until they agreed to close Gitmo. He could have done a lot of things – the President of The United States is a fairly powerful person – but Obama chose not to damage his political career – he chose to let people continue to suffer in conditions of torture – because his job was more important than their lives.

    As far as Bush goes: he should be in The Hague, on trial, or being tried in a US court for violating US law regarding torture. For that matter, since Obama effectively pardoned Bush for it, Obama belongs in The Hague, too.

    Keep making excuses for Obama. Go ahead.

    Also, President Obama made a good faith effort at the beginning of his administration to close the prison

    Your use of “good faith” is not one I am familiar with, in this context.

    Did you notice that Congress did not authorize the establishment of Gitmo? It was done on executive orders by Bush &co. If it could be established with executive orders, why not close it with executive orders?

    Poooooooooor powerless Obama. He can commit US troops in air assault against Libya, he’s the commander in chief of the armed forces (hint: Gitmo is a military prison. He doesn’t need an executive order to close the place, he can simply tell the SecDef “do it.” and the SecDef is supposed to do it)

    That’s not “good faith” that’s excuses. He made excuses, and you’re making excuses. Compromise, compromise, compromise.

    I don’t compromise. Obama doesn’t have to, either. He chose to.

  10. trucreep says

    The whole idea of moving Guantanamo to the US was rightly blocked by Congress for the wrong reasons. Indefinite detention is not only wrong, it’s illegal. Simply moving it geographically does nothing to address the actual issues.

  11. says

    Even so, anyone in any career, weighs the impact on their personal future when deciding on a course of action. It’s not unprincipled to do so.

    Yeah, if you’re a CIA employee and your boss tells you to torture someone – you’re the kind of asshole who’d torture them rather than risking your career, right? Because not risking your job is that much more important than ruining some complete stranger’s sanity and life.

    You can have a great career as a bootlicking thug, if you think that way. They’re hiring.

  12. kermit. says

    trucreep – yes. PArt of the reason I voted for Obama was to shut down Guantanimo. By that we did not mean to move them elsewhere and treat them the same! Charge them and try them. If found guilty, hold till their sentence runs out, release them then, or immediately if found not guilty.
    .
    Marcus – compromising does not necessarily mean compromising principles; it could mean compromising on goals. If I were a politician and though we should call an immediate end to new fossil fuel power sources, and another politician offers to shut them down over a ten-year plan, am I compromising if I agree to it? Would a green politician (or anyone with principles) be true to his ideals if his refusal to compromise meant nothing got done?

  13. says

    “When you promise something and don’t even give it a try, that’s unprinicpled behavior. Simple.”

    I completely agree.

    If you don’t think that he even TRIED, I’d suggest that you haven’t noticed what the Teabaglican House has been up to since 2008. When he has tried to ram things through he has been called an autocrat and had his ass handed to him by a hostile congress who DOES NOT CARE if they’re doing the business of the people, but only whether their machinations might result in political gains.

    Re: Closing down Gitmo by executive order–probably not doable. The military works for him, but not in the sense that the WH staff does. If he signed such an order Congress would almost certainly derail the plan with attendant embarrassment to him and his office.

    I agree that he might have tried harder to close Gitmo or pull out of Afghanistan. I could be mistaken but I think his promise was to pull troops out of Iraq, ASAP and to pull troops out of Afghanistan by 2014.

    Both of his promises were made, btw, when he was not privy to a LOT of information that he became privy to in January 2009.

  14. says

    If you don’t think that he even TRIED, I’d suggest that you haven’t noticed

    I noticed. I noticed failure and comromise. I noticed him covering up the Bush administration’s crimes.

    No doubt he expects to be added to the chain-letter of forgiveness and compromise. DO YOU WANT TO SIGN THAT CHAIN LETTER? DO YOU!?

  15. says

    If Clinton can be impeached for lying about jizz on an intern’s dress, Obama should be impeached for covering up serious crimes committed by Bush, and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales should be on a plane to The Hague to explain their unique interpretation of international law to the ICC.

  16. says

    Marcus Ranum, you’re just being ridiculous. Only losers get sent to the Hague. America is for winners. You do want to be a winner, don’t you?

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