The Obama administration transferred four more detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison on Thursday, marking the final transfers of the current White House. When President Obama took office, the prison population at the U.S. base in Cuba was 242. As Obama leaves office, there are 41 detainees. Obama was not able to follow through with his promise to close the military prison, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “it’s not for a lack of trying.” Three of the detainees are going to the United Arab Emirates and one is going to Saudi Arabia. Nineteen detainees have been transferred since Election Day. President-elect Donald Trump tweeted earlier this month that “there should be no further releases from Gitmo.”
Barack Obama, on the last two days of his presidency, commuted the sentences of Chelsea Manning and more than 200 others, signed a $500 million grant for the UN Green Climate Fund, and held a news conference where he defended those actions and others during his eight-year presidency.
As his presidency winds down, we’ll follow other developments from the Obama White House.
All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
The Final Gitmo Prison Transfers of the Obama Presidency
Obama Commutes 330 Drug Convictions
Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of 330 people convicted of drug crimes—in possibly his last major act as president. “The vast majority of these men and women are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes,” the White House said in a statement. Obama has now commuted the sentences of 1,715 individuals, including 568 people who were sentenced to life in prison. Obama’s commutations exceed the number granted by the past 13 presidents combined. He has also granted more commutations than any previous president.
President Obama's Final Press Conference
President Obama delivered the final news conference of his presidency Wednesday, answering questions ranging from the decisions made in the remaining days of his administration—like the commutation of Chelsea Manning—to his aspirations after leaving office. Ultimately, however, his departing words were ones of hope.
As my colleague David Graham writes:
Speaking to reporters at the White House, he insisted that although the arc of history is long, passing even through a Donald Trump presidency, it does bend toward Obama’s vision of justice. This faith that there is a right side of history has been a hallmark of his term in office, but it looks shakier than ever to many members of his party since the November election. As he did in his farewell address on Tuesday, Obama made the case for hope, even as he offered a series of warnings to, and about, the incoming Trump administration.
Our Coverage of the Last Days of Obama's Presidency
My colleague David Graham writes:
When was the last time America had a “legitimate” president?
You’d have to go back a ways to find a unanimous choice.
Shadi Hamid notes:
Unlike Kennedy and Johnson, Obama was very much the technocrat-in-chief, setting the tone for the people he would surround himself with. His intelligence was generally in little doubt. During his eight years in the Oval Office, the president was an almost unbelievably voracious reader, devoting around an hour on most days to books of history, philosophy, biography, or even sci-fi novels. But being smart and well-read doesn’t necessarily lead to good judgment or bold vision; in some cases, even, the former can undermine the latter.
Andrea Flynn points out about the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act:
The linked problems of health insecurity and economic insecurity were particularly burdensome for women. Before the ACA, women were more likely than men to forgo care or not fill prescriptions because of concerns about cost, and 28 percent of women had difficulties paying their medical bills, versus 19 percent of men. Moreover, compared to that overall rate of 28 percent, 52 percent of uninsured women and 44 percent of low-income women reported having trouble paying their bills. There are numerous reasons that women—particularly women of color and immigrant women—faced (and face) such challenges in getting care: persistent race- and gender-based wage and wealth gaps, the predominance of women in low-wage work without benefits, and the fact that more women live in poverty than men.
The ACA was also an acknowledgement of the gender disparities built into the health system that preceded it.
My colleague Kaveh Waddell reports:
With the new changes, which were long in the works, those agencies can apply for access to various feeds of raw, undoctored NSA intelligence. Analysts will then be able to sift through the contents of those feeds as they see fit, before implementing required privacy protections. Previously, the NSA applied those privacy protections itself, before forwarding select pieces of information to agencies that might need to see them.
The updated procedures will multiply the number of intelligence analysts who have access to NSA surveillance, which is captured in large quantities and often isn’t subject to warrant requirements.
But as Ian Bogost noted, “His ‘cool dad’ presidency blinded him to technology’s dangers.”
[W]hat if Obama was too good at social media? Maybe America didn’t need a social-media president, but a president whose technological savvy could apply to legislation and governance as much as public communication.
As Will Di Novi pointed out:
For the past eight years, Americans have been dreaming of Barack Obama, and not just in an aspirational sense. At every step in his presidential journey, people across the United States have been seeing him in their sleep—in rapturous fantasies, skin-scrawling nightmares, and all sorts of weird situations in between.
This phenomenon first came to light during the 2008 primaries, when the novelist Sheila Heti solicited dreams about the Democratic candidates on a website called The Metaphysical Poll.