If a Republican wins the White House, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay will almost surely be kept open for the foreseeable future. That is, unless Rand Paul nabs the GOP nomination.
Yet again, the senator from Kentucky has scouted out a position on a national-security issue that makes him an outlier, at least among senators running for president.
That was clear Monday after Marco Rubio introduced two amendments that would extend the use of the prison: one to prohibit funding to programs that would help close the facility, and another that sets a series of tough ground rules before a president could transfer U.S.-held land or water back to Cuba. This follows Rubio's statement two months prior that he would "absolutely" reopen the facility known as Gitmo if Obama somehow closed it, as he promised he would on his first day in office.
Rubio's amendments are more expansive than one proposed by Ted Cruz, the Texas conservative, to end funding for the transfer of detainees to countries covered by the State Department's travel warnings. Cruz's amendment would codify the U.S.'s informal, revived ban on transferring the vast majority of detainees, who are Yemeni, back home. But Cruz, Florida's Rubio and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham support a bill that would prohibit for two years the transfer of detainees who are considered "medium-risk" or higher, and any transfers to Yemen.
Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a likely presidential candidate, recently said the U.S. should keep Gitmo open, despite the public statements of his brother. After he left office, former President George W. Bush, who oversaw the use and expansion of the prison after 9/11, called Gitmo a "propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies," and reiterated that it was his goal to close it in his second term.
And then there's Paul.
As with his recent fight to end some of the National Security Agency's spying authorities, Paul finds himself sitting alone, the rare Republican presidential candidate willing to buck the party's traditional position on an issue of national defense.
Over the past several years, Paul has pushed back on the hawks by voting to weaken restrictions on transferring detainees and by not signing onto this year's bill temporarily prohibiting transfers. In 2012, he rebutted Graham's notion that the prisoners—currently numbering 122, down from a total of 779—are "crazy bastards" and advocated for them to be tried.
Two presidents have talked about closing Guantanamo. Yet the prison remains open, largely because neither the Obama nor the Bush administrations have been able to lay out a plan for dealing with the prisoners deemed too dangerous to release but impossible to prosecute.
Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 nominee and now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is leading the annual defense authorization bill and has dangled before Obama a provision that would authorize the president to close Gitmo so long as Congress gets to approve his plan. McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war, says he supports shuttering Gitmo because it has become a worldwide symbol of abuse.
But he's criticized Obama for not coming up with a viable plan.
"For over six years, the administration has stated that one of its highest policy priorities is to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, but for that same period of time members of the Senate have repeatedly requested a plan that explains how the administration will handle the detainees held there," McCain said on the Senate floor Monday. "Unfortunately "¦ the administration has consistently failed to provide that plan."
Previously, Paul said he would keep the prison open but that he wishes previous administrations had prosecuted the prisoners years ago. On Monday, an aide to Paul would not talk on the record but sent a statement on background that restated his opposition to closing the prison by executive order and opposition to the United States detaining anyone indefinitely.