After the release of four of the most dangerous Taliban figures not directly linked to al-Qaeda (and one with a link to Osama bin Laden himself) from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration has signaled full speed ahead on closing Gitmo as Barack Obama promised since 2007. Opposition to closing Gitmo and moving its prisoners to the US remains higher than it was when Obama made that promise, according to a Gallup poll from Friday, and unchanged since 2009:
Twenty-nine percent of Americans support closing the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and moving its prisoners to U.S. prisons, while two in three (66%) oppose the idea. Despite the recent controversy surrounding the release of five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdal’s release from Afghanistan, Americans’ views have barely budged since 2009.
These results are from a June 5-8 Gallup poll conducted days after the release of Sgt. Bergdahl. Gallup found that Americans are divided on the wisdom of negotiating with terrorist groups to secure the release of Americans prisoners.
President Barack Obama made the closing of Guantanamo Bay a part of his 2008 campaign platform, but he has yet to do so. However, he recently reiterated his desire to close the prison at West Point graduation ceremony. Despite the president’s continued commitment to its closure, Americans’ views have not changed much in the four times Gallup has asked them about this issue.
The problem with looking at this as an unchanging attitude is the lack of data points. It’s true that the poll results are almost identical to 2009’s survey, but it’s also true that Gallup hasn’t polled on the question since then. In fact, not too many pollsters have asked the question, because opposition to such a move has been a bipartisan consensus outside of the West Wing during the entirety of the Obama administration.
It’s still a bipartisan consensus, according to the partisan breakdown of this poll. Obama faces majority opposition (54%, with 41% approving) to a Gitmo closure and transfer of detainees to the US among his own party. Among independents, that rises to a 30/64, and 13/84 among Republicans. In 2009, a slim majority of Democrats approved of such a move, and Obama has lost 12 points among Democrats on this issue since the beginning of his term in office.
One implicit conclusion from the “unchanged” claim is that the release of the Taliban 5 did nothing to inflame public opinion against the move, as well as did nothing to boost it. However, the lack of data points means no such assumption could be made, as we don’t know from the Gallup series whether the public had softened its stance on closing Gitmo. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll suggests that it might have been incrementally softer before the release. At the beginning of May, the idea of closing Gitmo got a 27/54 rating, while the public was largely split on the wisdom of holding unlawful combatants in US prisons rather than military detention (38/39). Perhaps another survey in this series would clarify whether Obama damaged his close-Gitmo project by releasing the worst of the non-AQ Taliban for Bowe Bergdahl.
Meanwhile, Congress is reacting to the unpopularity of the swap by attempting new restrictions on transfers of Gitmo detainees to the US:
Guantanamo detainees would be prevented from transferring to the United States, under legislation offered by Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
The proposal is a direct response to the swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a five-year captive in Afghanistan, for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo. Even though the terror suspects were sent abroad, the Tennessee Republican argues this is an opportune moment to provide a long-term solution to the detainee transfer issue – a situation that has vexed two presidential administrations since shortly after 9/11.
Blackburn and colleagues contend President Barack Obama willfully and intentionally violated rules pertaining to the transfer of Gitmo terrorist detainees in the Bergdahl deal. So her bill would make it illegal to transfer Gitmo terror suspects into the U.S., punishable by a fine and up to five years in federal prison.
Expect a food fight from the Obama administration over that bill, but the Senate may not be able to prevent such a bill from getting a floor vote. With the kind of polling we’re seeing on Gitmo and the outrage over the Taliban 5 swap, red-state Democrats in the upper chamber facing re-election in a few months may not want to give voters any more reason to give Republicans control of the Senate as a check against Obama’s arrogance.