The enthusiasm for closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay has waned on Capitol Hill ever since it became clear that our allies want nothing to do with the terrorists imprisoned there — and that the administration is considering releasing some in the US as a confidence-builder.  Congress passed the war-funding bill that Obama wanted, but stripped out all money for closing Gitmo.  Instead, they included a number of restrictions intended on tying Obama’s hands and slowing down the process … perhaps to a halt:

Legislation to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year is on its way to President Barack Obama, but it provides no money for closing the Guantanamo detainee prison and sets tough restrictions on the transfer of its inmates. …

Lawmakers sent Obama, who wants to close the prison, not one but two messages Thursday to prove they don’t like the idea.

In addition to the war fighting bill, which received final congressional approval, the House used the first spending bill for 2010 to deny the president money to close the prison next year. The legislation funds law enforcement and science programs.

Obama will now have to contend with a minefield of prerequisites in order to proceed with closing Gitmo.  It won’t be impossible, but it certainly will prove challenging, and perhaps impossible in any realistic sense for the next couple of years.  The bill, according to the AP report, takes the following steps:

  • Prohibit detainees from being released in the United States.
  • Prevent prisoners being transferred to the United States, except to be prosecuted. Even then, a number of requirements would have to be met, including a plan showing the risks involved, the costs, the legal rationale and certification from the attorney general that the individual poses little or no security risk.
  • Stop detainees from being transferred or released to another country unless the president meets a separate set of requirements, including an assessment of risks posed and terms of the transfer agreement with the receiving country.

Clearly, Congress has reacted poorly to Obama’s attempt to bribe Palau and Bermuda to take the Uighurs off of his hands.  Only four have been released, and this appears to delay the rest from getting transferred out of the prison.  The risk assessment may not be a difficult hurdle, but the Bermuda transfer in particular shows that the Obama administration hadn’t bothered to do a serious one at all.  Bermuda security authorities hadn’t prepared for the arrival of Tora Bora-trained Muslim separatists, mainly because their government hadn’t informed them and the White House hadn’t informed the British government, which has responsibility for security in Bermuda.

Without an option to release Gitmo prisoners in the US, other Western nations will refuse to accept them.  Germany has been particularly insistent on reciprocity, but other nations will also find it a hard sell to their constituents that Gitmo prisoners are perfectly safe while the US refuses to countenance their presence within our country.  Obama will find it extremely difficult under these restrictions to meet his one-year deadline for shuttering the one facility explicitly built to house the worst of terrorists.  And if Congress’ reaction is any indication, Obama is finding himself increasingly marginalized on the issue.

Note: This will be the last emergency war supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan.  The administration and Congress have finally taken the wise decision to include war spending in the regular budgeting process, something George Bush should have done after 2004 when it became clear we would stay in both Iraq and Afghanistan for the long term.