President Obama and his team pledged in 2009 to work hard with Congress to close GTMO. There appeared to be little White House follow-up for the next four years, however. And indeed, the administration consistently found itself on the defensive as Congress, far from acting to close GTMO, imposed unprecedented restrictions on the President’s discretion over transferring or releasing GTMO detainees. The administration’s weak first-term efforts to close GTMO are why some of us were skeptical of the significance of the President’s call last month for Congress to close GTMO.
The public hasn’t heard much about this matter since the President’s speech, but yesterday the House took up closing GTMO in a revealing way. It was considering a bill for appropriations for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. Section 413 of the bill (See H3071 ff.) prohibited the use of funds by DOD to construct or renovate any facility in the United States for Guantanamo detainees. Representative Moran proposed an amendment to strike Section 413, arguing (H3072) that “the President can’t do what he needs to do as long as section 413 remains in this bill, and that’s why my amendment would remove this restriction.” The amendment was defeated 254-170, with one Republican (Representative Amash from Michigan) in favor, and at least two dozen Democrats against, including Representative Ruppersberger (of Maryland), the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.
I can find no public evidence of a White House push to defeat Section 413 or to support the Moran amendment, except for the following buried and ineffectual paragraph in a largely unread Statement of Administration Policy:
Detainee Matters. The Administration strongly opposes section 413, which would prohibit the use of funds to construct, renovate, or expand any facility in the United States to house individuals held in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. This prohibition would constrain the flexibility that the Nation's Armed Forces and counterterrorism professionals need to deal with evolving threats, intruding upon the Executive Branch's ability to carry out its mission.
Seems like business as usual – in the White House, and on Capitol Hill – on closing GTMO.