Oct. 14, 2014

Gitmo: Keeping the Promise?

Barack Obama is bound and determined to shutter the detention facility.

It’s a prospect Americans oppose by a margin of better than two to one: the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the resulting transfer of prisoners to nations around the globe, including the United States. Yet like any number of other campaign promises Barack Obama has made that we’d rather he not keep, the president seems bound and determined to find a way to follow through on closing Gitmo.

He’s repeatedly promised to do so from the 2008 campaign through this year’s State of the Union, in which he again cried that Congress needed to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers. His current tactic seems to be obviating the need for the facility by attrition – transferring prisoners out a few at a time. Not that those housed there would be any less dangerous or somehow develop a deep appreciation for Americans if they were allowed to leave.

Most Americans are aware of the swap of five Gitmo prisoners for accused deserter Bowe Bergdahl. But most may not know that Estonia has just agreed to accept one detainee, and six others may be bound for Uruguay, depending on election results later this month. Of the 149 still housed at Gitmo, 79 are eligible for such transfers, and the Obama administration is working to find them new homes where the president hopes they’ll behave.

Or as late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon joked, “When asked how he plans on letting the prisoners out, Obama said, ‘I’ll replace all the guards with Secret Service agents.’ They’ll just wander out.”

But the worst of the lot are those who Obama would prefer to house and bring to trial right here in the United States – a dangerous 9/10 mindset of treating terrorism as a crime rather than an act of war. And while the ever-popular “unnamed officials” believe we have plenty of adequate prison space for these detainees in our supermax facilities, Congress wisely acted a few years ago to prohibit the use of federal funds to transfer Gitmo prisoners to the United States. Obama considers that provision unconstitutional (chutzpah at its finest), and his desire to see Gitmo shuttered may lead to a veto of the defense authorization bill if it isn’t stripped. Meanwhile, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) threatened to filibuster any unilateral executive action to close Guantanamo.

While Barack Obama seems to be sticking to his guns on this particular policy point, it’s useful to compare this to his leading from behind against Islamic terror in other nations like Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. He has steadfastly refused to recommit ground troops to combating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but the military argues the limited air strikes Obama has authorized won’t be enough to save thousands in the path of ISIL offensives, such as in the Syrian city of Kobani or in Iraq’s Anbar province. (Yet Obama didn’t hesitate to place 3,000 troops in harm’s way battling Ebola. Go figure.)

When Obama took office in 2009, the Middle East was far more stable than it is today. While he chafed under the policies put in place by George W. Bush, he was the beneficiary of their relative success early in his first term. However, in his effort to thoroughly discredit his predecessor’s policies, Obama has made the case why they should have stayed in place.

It costs about $500 million a year to keep Guantanamo Bay open – a hefty sum to be sure, but less than we’ve spent on boondoggles like Solyndra or Planned Parenthood. The question is whether the Long War is in any way a priority for this president. All signs are definitely pointing to no.

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