It really was inevitable. One of the last gasps of the Pelosi Congress in December was to add a provision to the new defense bill barring federal funds for the transfer of Gitmo prisoners to the U.S. for any reason, including trials. (Some House Democrats called it revenge on Obama for caving to the GOP on tax cuts for the rich. That should tell you how seriously they take this subject.) With no other options for trying detainees, the White House started whispering to the Times in January that O’s original order barring further proceedings there would have to be lifted and that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the planners of the Cole bombing, would likely be first up. And now, just six weeks later, here we are:
The move signals another defeat for Obama, who pledged to close the terrorist detention facility in Cuba within one year of taking office.
In a fact sheet, the White House said Obama “remains committed” to closing the facility, but the president’s decision to lift the ban on military commissions signals the unlikelihood that Obama will successfully transfer all of the prisoners in Cuba…
The White House said that the president ordered changes in how the commissions were run to make them more fair.
“The administration, working on a bipartisan basis with members of Congress, has successfully enacted key reforms, such as a ban on the use of statements taken as a result of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and a better system for handling classified information,” the White House said.
This is a “defeat” for Obama? Really? He’s breaking a campaign pledge, granted, but he’s got an airtight alibi: Congress won’t give him the money to carry out his plan. So in the meantime, he’ll keep Gitmo open — which, according to a CNN poll taken last year, 60 percent of the public supports — and maybe he’ll nail down a conviction against a filthbag jihadi like Nashiri, against whom we have plenty of evidence even without the information obtained during waterboarding. He’ll earn a political windfall for doing that, with even some Democrats coming around on the utility of military commissions, and that’ll make it easier for him to avoid the exceedingly risky prospect of trials for detainees in civilian court. And if the worst happens and Nashiri is somehow acquitted at the Gitmo tribunal, Obama can say that he was simply using the procedure handed to him by counterterror warrior George Bush. This is, it appears, all upside for him politically except among the small subset of his base that still pretends to care about this issue, and none of them will be voting GOP next year. (Nor, needless to say, will the GOP nominee be attacking Obama for keeping Gitmo open.) So how is he losing here, exactly? As America’s new poet laureate would say — duh, winning.
It’s enough to make me wonder if that funding cut-off by House Democrats wasn’t something quietly urged by the White House itself. I’ll leave you with this oldie but goodie from Thomas Joscelyn debunking the left’s eternal talking point that Gitmo is some sort of linchpin of Al Qaeda propaganda. Wasn’t true in December and, with the “Arab spring” creating all sorts of new political fault lines in the Middle East for jihadis to try to exploit, it’s even less true now.