After repeatedly delaying its plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the Obama administration has finally released a nine-page strategy to the US Congress on how it intends to close down the prison.
The effort, perhaps one of the most important objectives President Barack Obama hopes to accomplish in his last 11 months in office, remains a divisive subject not only among the US political leadership but also among the American people at large.
This is why the administration, including the White House, the Defence Department, and the State Department took a considerable amount of time to hammer out the details. If the announcement on February 23 was a surprise, how the White House intends to close up shop in Guantanamo surely is not.
The ingredients to a successful closure of Gitmo have been known for quite some time, and Obama did not disappoint. Detainees who have been cleared by the US government for release to a third country will have their transfers accelerated; the Parole Review Board, responsible for determining which detainee is suitable for transfer, will be working in a more expeditious manner; prisoners charged by the US will continue to have their cases prosecuted; and prisoners that the US determines are too dangerous to release will be transferred to another facility in the United States.
Unfortunately for the administration, its Gitmo closure plan has about as much chance of succeeding as Obama’s earlier attempts. The fact remains that, in a heated election year where matters of national security remain a concern for many Americans, a Republican-led Congress has no incentive to provide the White House with the cooperation needed to remove detainees to the US mainland.
Indeed, Republicans in Congress are already gearing up for a long fight that could potentially reach the US court system. Pat Roberts, Tim Scott, and Cory Gardner, three senators who represent states that would most likely host Guantanamo detainees inside the US, are firmly opposed to any relocation of the prisoners in their constituencies.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has said that any effort by the administration to unilaterally close the Guantanamo facility without congressional approval would be a direct violation of the US law.
Congressional Republicans are already preparing for a lawsuit in the event that Obama does decide to take that route – hiring expensive attorneys in Washington that could quickly file an injunction that would stop any executive authority in its tracks.
Are there any options that the administration can pursue that would provide the White House with an opening to meet a major campaign promise? Outside of ignoring congressional restrictions and using executive power to begin transferring detainees into US prisons, their choices are quite limited.
The United States could try to get other countries around the world to prosecute these detainees on terrorism-related charges, but there is no guarantee that nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan would agree to help facilitate more terrorists on to their soil.
Nor is there much indication that an Afghan government would want to host several additional terrorists. The most likely scenario is the most depressing for President Obama. And that is this: once he submits his Guantanamo closure policy to Congress, the Republican-led House and Senate will reject it as dangerous to US national security at a time when international terrorism is at an all time high.
Top Republicans argue that Obama does not have the authority under the constitution to transfer prisoners on his own. And the White House is left with the unpalatable choice between doing nothing or gearing up for a constitutional crisis. Part of Obama’s appeal when he first ran for president in 2008 was his call to get away from the policies of his predecessor. On Guantanamo, he has learned that saying one thing on the campaign trail and doing another in the Oval Office are completely different ventures.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Why Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo is all talk’.
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