Political Animal


April 30, 2013 5:26 PM The Endless Spiral of Futility Over Closing Gitmo

By Ed Kilgore

When news of an ongoing hunger strikes among detainees at Guantanamo Bay drew a question to the president about the situation at this morning’s press conference, a lot of people listening or reading the transcript had to do either a major memory retrieval or some quick research. Gitmo? Oh yeah, Gitmo.

Q: [From Bill Plante]:Mr. President, as you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, among prisoners there. Is it any surprise, really, that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantanamo, which is why, when I was campaigning in 2007 and 2008 and when I was elected in 2008, I said we need to close Guantanamo.
I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo. I think — well, you know, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.
Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country.
I’m going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I’m going to re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people.

Basically, the president made another strong statement about the need to close Gitmo, but then promised no more than another “review” of the situation and then a “reengagement” with Congress. The basic problem is that you can’t close Gitmo without sending the detainees somewhere else, and other countries won’t take them unless we do, and Congress won’t let us take them. There’s an additional complication in that some of them would normally be sent to Yemen, where there’s significant al Qaeda activity.

The National Security Network did a good backgrounder on the deteriorating situation at Gitmo last week. What it really comes down to is whether the administration is willing to expend the political capital to have another fight with congressional Republicans on this subject and perhaps break the endless spiral of futility. In the meantime, as Obama himself seemed to be suggesting in his own remarks, there’s a growing realization that if something doesn’t happen soon Americans—and not just civil libertarians or “liberals”—are going to look back on this whole sordid episode with shame.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • gussie on April 30, 2013 5:54 PM:

    I don't understand under what authority they're being held. Military authority? Isn't the president the C-in-C? Even if not, can't he pardon them? They're not charged--or accused--but can't he preemptively pardon, or whatever it's called the presidents do, when they give get-out-of-jail-just-in-case cards to buddies?

    At this point, they're not detainees any longer, they're kidnap victims.

  • schtick on April 30, 2013 5:56 PM:

    Did the US get our money back from the people we paid for these "terrorists" when it was found they weren't terrorists at all? I imagine we could fill it up with homeground terrorists for the same price and get the same results.

  • Derek Todd on April 30, 2013 7:23 PM:

    The endless spiral of futility, as you put it, is at least partly due to the circulation of poor information or outright misinformation. At least two men held at Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer, a Saudi born British citizen, and Fouzi Al Awda, a Kuwaiti citizen, have not only been cleared for release but have been requested to be released by both the British and Kuwaiti governments respectively. Why have they not been released? Why don’t you or any other journalists outside of Democracy Now ask the questions? You allude to the presence in Yemen of “significant al Qaeda activity” which has been seized upon by the timorous Congress as a reason not to release any of the significant fraction of those held prisoner at Guantanamo who have been “cleared for release” and who are Yemenis. This is not some act of God, it is a cowardly and cynical political decision. Every age throws up it’s moral challenges. Sometimes a conservative minded person will stand up and sometimes a liberal minded person will find their backbone and sometimes everyone will run for cover and let the poor enlisted men who must guard these indefinitely imprisoned and desperate men, force feed them or watch them starve so that they too can be victims of the fear gripping the American psyche.

  • rrk1 on April 30, 2013 7:45 PM:

    If Congress is timorous, to say the least, what does that make Obama? He is no hero on a white horse leading the charge on anything.

    Guantanamo is one of the worst stains on our supposed Democracy, and the grandstanding surrounding this canker sore, this festering pustule, this oozing wound, this gangrenous limb of our principles, is disgusting beyond words. And that is especially true of the forced feeding the hunger strikers are being subjected to. We ended torture? Really?

    How any American can walk head held high, or pledge allegiance to a country that not only allows such an atrocity to occur, let alone continue, is a measure of our fecklessness, cowardice, and fear.

  • T-Rex on April 30, 2013 8:59 PM:

    Look back on it with shame? I'm ashamed right now and have been since 2003. This is a disgrace to every principle Americans claim to believe. If Congress can't or won't do anything, dammit, he's the Commander in Chief and can make decisions about military prisoners. Mr. President, just DO IT!

  • mb on April 30, 2013 9:26 PM:

    Seems to me Obama is hiding behind the Congress here. If the Defense Auth. Act does tie his hands, he should have vetoed it. He signed it, it is as much his law as it is Congress's.

    However, I don't believe his hands are completely tied. If nothing else, he could order the guards to leave the cages open and have the FBI standing by to arrest these 100-or-so "tresspassers" and, presto-chango, they are in our Federal criminal justice system.

    We heard a lot of good words and strong emotion today from the pres. Wake me up when he actually does something about it.

  • RaflW on April 30, 2013 11:25 PM:

    The Republicans, led by Lindsey Graham, would piss their pants on a daily basis if they had to close Guantanamo. Elected Republicans are absurdly, childishly afraid of the people locked up there. Its as if the GOP has no confidence in US prisons, judges, the entire security apparatus that they claim is so important as 'tough-on-crime' rock-ribbed Republicans. It's like they're scared.


  • David Martin on May 01, 2013 2:36 PM:

    Guantámano will shut down a decade or so after the Castros die and the successor regime, while still socialist, gets serious about demanding an end to sanctions and renewed diplomatic relations.