Perhaps the most notable "broken promise" of President Obama's first term was his failure to close down the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, yet no one can say that his "failure" comes from a lack of trying. Last night, the Senate added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that bars the military from using any funds to transfer suspected terrorists to jails on American soil. This came one day after the release of a GAO report explicitly stating that there are over 100 prisons in the United States that could safely hold the 166 detainees currently in Cuba.
The difficultly for the president is that most of the criticism is heaped on him by the left, while all the logistical roadblocks comes from the right. It's Congress that's holding up attempts to close Guantanamo, and Obama has had little to no success reigning them in. He's threatened to veto the entire defense spending bill if the provision remains, but then he opens himself to attacks from Republicans that he's trying to shred the military budget. Progressives see Obama as dragging his feet and trampling on human rights, while conservatives accuse him of trampling on national security by trying to house terrorists on American soil. Republican Lindsey Graham (and other conservatives like Michelle Malkin) talk as if transferring prisoners to a federal or military prison is essentially giving terrorists free reign in our streets, with Graham asking Senator Diane Feinstein (who commissioned the GAO report) “Have you lost your mind?" Either way, nothing changes and he ends up looking inept.
Still, even if Obama could get the prisoners to American prisons, there is little hope of putting most of these people on trial or any of them ever seeing the light of day. Feinstein added another amendment to the NDAA that was supposed to prevent indefinite military detention of civilians, but it may actually end up expanding the number of people who can be detained. And once you're in detention, there's no way to get a lawyer and exercise the rights you supposedly have. A presidential veto would presumably kill that as well, but there still remains no way to legally dispatch with Guantanamo detainees, no matter which prison they're in.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.