Closing Gitmo

GeorgeWBushHIjoWhy wasn’t Guantanamo shut down long ago? As Rachael Maddow demonstrated on her news show last night, back in 2007 President George. W. Bush stated his strong desire to close Guantanamo.

I’d like to end Guantanamo. I’d like it to be over with. One of the things we will do is we will send people back to their home countries.

Back in 2007 Republican presidential nominee John McCain was also in favour of closing Guantanamo and clearly stated so in his campaign. Every one of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination at that time were in favour of closing Guantanamo, including Senator Barack Obama, who stated,

We’re going to lead by shutting down Guantanamo and restoring habeus corpus in this country so that we offer [other countries] an example.

obama-signAfter Barack Obama took office it seemed like there would be broad bi-partisan support for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. On his second day in office Obama signed an executive order calling on Congress to take the necessary steps to close Guantanamo within the year. This would entail making a determination for every detainee many of whom were being held without charge. Those who clearly posed no danger would be released and sent back to their home countries, while those facing charges would be transferred to American soil and tried within the U.S. justice system.

Then the Republican pushback began. Less than a month after the President signed this executive order, Republicans in Congress began trying to block the transfer of any of the detainees to prisons in the U.S. The Democrats in Congress caved in to pressure, and together with the Republicans voted to take away the money needed to close Guantanamo.

The following year Congress again took away the money for closing Guantanamo and voted to block the President from transferring anyone out of Guantanamo into the U.S. justice system. Since the Republican gains in the 2010 elections, there has been no willingness to reverse this decision.

20130523-obama-defense-600x-1369340284President Obama reminded his audience in his address to the National Defense University in Washington yesterday that

As president, I have tried to close Gitmo. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense.

Obviously this impasse cannot go on indefinitely. As Obama stated in his speech,

Imagine a future 10 years from now or 20 years from now when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country.

Look at the current situation where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. … Is this who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave our children?

The President is once again pressing Congress to approve the closing of Guantanamo.

[T]here is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened. Today I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo.

McCain & GrahamWill Congress finally act to get the job done? In a strongly divided legislature it seems doubtful that Republicans will sufficiently rally around the President’s request to make it happen. Nevertheless, the President has initially received some qualified support from two prominent Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Their support may be critical to getting Guantanamo closed and bringing this divisive and controversial phase of American policy to an end.

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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