One Campaign Promise Obama Can't Deliver: Closing Gitmo

And he's just issued an executive order calling for indefinite detentions

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After months of liberal grumbling that his presidency had failed, President Obama is suddenly racking up wins--getting "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repealed, New START and food safety bills passed, unemployment benefits extended, and health care for 9/11 responders. But there's one big campaign promise that Obama hasn't been able to deliver on: closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. And the plan to close Gitmo is "in shambles," Politico's Josh Gerstein reports.

The just-passed National Defense Authorization Act includes language that forbids using Department of Defense money to transfer Guantanamo detainees stateside, even for a trial. National security staff have been trying to figure out whether to try accused terrorists--most notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--in civilian court or a military tribunal, but the defense bill makes tribunals the only option.

  • Plus, Obama Will Issue an Executive Order Calling for Indefinite Detention  "So how bad is this?" asks Adam Serwer at The Washington Post. "It's both very bad and an improvement over the status quo--and a significant improvement from the detention review policies the Bush administration put in place." How so? He explains:
The Obama administration proposal differs from the Bush administration detention review process in that it would be more adversarial--detainees would be represented by a lawyer, and the boards would be made up of more than just military officials. ... The White House's indefinite detention proposal is basically what we've come to expect from the Obama administration on national security and civil liberties. Having promised to reverse the trajectory of Bush-era national security policies, the Obama administration has settled on merely making them marginally more lawful and humane. It's not nothing, but it's not what Obama promised--or what much of the left was hoping for.
  • Political Expediency, Talk Left's Jeralyn writes, irritated at Senator Dick Durbin, apparently, among others. "Durbin deserves no pass in the matter. Even though he voted for the ban yesterday, like Obama, he wants you to remember he supported closing Gitmo and buying the Illinois prison (where plans were to hold trials for some and indefinitely detain others.) His excuse: he's just facing 'the political reality.' So the new standard in politics is, if you can't win, vote with the other side. Whatever happened to standing up for what's right?"
  • Obama Confronts Reality  Hot Air's Jazz Shaw offers a translation of Obama's plan: "We still oppose the policies of George W. Bush regarding indefinite detention without trial for any suspect, so we're going to handle every aspect of the situation differently unless we can't."
  • Embracing the Worst of the Bush Administration  "Indefinite detention was the very heart of the Bush policy. The idea," argues Karen Greenberg at The Guardian, "that the United States could hold individuals, refuse to classify them in any recognised legal category and thereby deny them rights, was the doorway to a host of unacceptable policies, including enhanced interrogation techniques, excessive periods of solitary confinement (apart from interrogation), disappearances to 'black sites', and most of all, the refusal to confront squarely the distinction between guilt and innocence."
  • Obama Will Regain the Initiative on Detention Policy, Ken Gude suggests at Think Progress. This will mark a change, he says, from the last 18 months, during which Congress controlled the issue. The executive order is a "significant improvement" that "goes well beyond what is required by the Geneva Conventions." Many lawmakers "tried to tie President Obama’s hands and prevent the closure of Guantanamo. Up to this point, the administration had not found a way to effectively push back. The most important aspect of this Executive Order is that it can be the start of that effort."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.