Has Dick Cheney Won The Argument Over Guantanamo?

A Gallup/USA Today poll finds that a 54 percent majority of Americans oppose closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay--which leads us to the question: has Dick Cheney won?

Cheney has undertaken a public campaign against President Obama's national security policies, most notably closing Guantanamo and the end of "enhanced interrogation techniques," since Obama issued those orders two days after taking office. Cheney reiterated his opinions today at the National Press Club.

Since January, Obama's plan to close Guantanamo has suffered a few setbacks. Senate Democrats turned against it amid fears about transferring detainees to U.S. prisons, siding with Republicans in a 90-6 vote against funding the closure; the next day, Obama rolled out his national security policy in a speech at the National Archives, and, instead of backing his plan to close the prison, civil liberties and human rights groups blasted Obama for setting a precedent of "preventive detentions"--continuing a steady wave of criticism they have aimed at Obama this year.

It appeared the GOP's opposition campaign--based on claims that Guantanamo makes us safer, and transferring detainees to U.S. soil is dangerous--had worked.

Polling on Guantanamo has always reflected wavering opinions among the U.S. public. Though Obama ran on a platform of closing the prison, and won the 2008 election handily, there has not been consistent, widespread consensus on the matter. Over time, polls have gone back and forth.

In June 2007, a CNN poll showed Americans opposing closure of Guantanamo 46/45; in a Jan. 2009 CNN poll, Americans supported closure 51/47; in a Gallup poll later that month, they opposed it 45/35; in a Feb. 2-4 CBS poll, they opposed it 46/44; in a Feb. 2 Gallup poll, they opposed it 50/44; in a Feb. 4-8 Pew study, they supported Obama's decision 46/39; in an April 22-26 CBS/NY Times poll, they opposed it 47/44; and today, finally, 54 percent opposed it.

(Polls not linked to can be found at PollingReport.com. Some asked whether respondents approved of Obama's decision; most asked straightforwardly whether the prison should be closed.)

Given the pre-2008 opposition to closing Guantanamo, and the split results of January polls, it's hard to say there has been a sea change in opinion on the matter--but today's 54 percent would be the largest majority to fall on either side of the issue thusfar.

We'll have to wait for another poll to come out to see whether the data are contradicted again, as they have been repeatedly in the past.

But if there is some momentum on Cheney's side in this argument, it is perhaps because the debate has now turned to where the detainees will go--and even the more specific question of "has Guantanamo made us safer" sounds more theoretical in light of those logistics.

Senate Demcorats, to be sure, proved that the GOP has made some headway cautioning that, if the prison is closed, it will be dangerous to bring detainees here.

Dick Cheney's point throughout all of this has been that Guantanamo (and the interrogations conducted there) has made the U.S. safer. Minus a vocal support base from the ACLU and similar groups, and with Senate Democrats having opposed sending some detainees to U.S. prisons, Obama has been left to articulate his arguments on his own. Cheney, meanwhile, has the message machine of House and Senate Republicans, plus a cadre of conservative thinkers, at his back.

In February's CBS poll, most Americans said closing Guantanamo would have no effect on security (49 percent), but among those who thought it would, less safe beat safer by a landslide, 36 percent to 4 percent. Today's poll showed Americans agreeing with Cheney, by a margin of 40 percent to 18 percent. That's quite different from a 36/4 split, but it still leaves a wide swath of Americans who don't see things either way.

At least among people who think Guantanamo affects security at all, Cheney appears to be in the lead.