Detention & Guantanamo

Breaking News: Guantanamo Closure Plans Are Stalled (but now it’s the Pentagon’s fault)

By Matthew Waxman
Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 12:03 PM

So reports the Associated Press this morning. This story stating the obvious upshot of President Obama's doomed Guantanamo policy has a few interesting aspects to it, but fails to put Guantanamo policy in the broader context of a legal framework that President Obama has talked about putting in place, or how recent events with respect to ISIL further undermine any remaining efforts to close Guantanamo.

One interesting aspect of this story is that it places much blame for collapse of Guantanamo closure efforts on the Pentagon: “The transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay has ground to a halt amid a slow Pentagon approval process, causing deep frustration within the administration and raising doubts that President Barack Obama will be able to fulfill his campaign promise to close the offshore prison for terrorism suspects.” It goes on to suggest that Secretary Hagel, who must sign off on Guantanamo transfers pursuant to legislative restrictions, is more hesitant to accept risks of recidivism than the President would like, despite policy direction from the White House.

Whatever the truth of that (and the description of internal deliberations about transfer decisions within the Pentagon sounds much like they played out during the Bush administration), it’s silly to say that slow transfer decision-making at the Pentagon is what’s standing in the way of closing Guantanamo. If White House staff are feeding that view, then shame on them.

In truth, the President has yet to come forward with – and then fight hard for – a plan for closing Guantanamo. Speeding up transfers could be a part of that plan, but it’s a small part because the President has himself acknowledged that the United States will hold on to some Guantanamo detainees indefinitely (without using that word).

The article also repeats the White House position that it would like Congress to lift restrictions on transfers, which are indeed a significant part of the problem. The White House would like Congress to do a lot of things these days, though, and there are no signs that the White House will fight hard for this in particular.

Unless the President has a “big bang” legislative proposal up his sleeve for the new Congress that combines Guantanamo closure plans with new force and detention authorities, this story only seems to confirm that President Obama is drifting toward President Bush’s half-hearted and wishful position of “I’d like to be able to close Guantanamo [if only I could wish away the obstacles]”. The news today seems to be that his office is tagging his own Pentagon as one of those obstacles.