If it seems like the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has seen a lot of media attention of late, you’re not imagining things. Noah covered the release of five more detainees on Tuesday, but the accelerated rate of transfers has just begun to gain notice — as well as the timing. With Barack Obama’s authorized transfer of five more Gitmo detainees over the holiday, the total comes to 22 over the last two months:
This total is more than Obama released in the three years prior to the midterm elections, as The Hill reports:
President Obama’s push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is going into overdrive, with more detainee transfers in the last two months of 2014 than in the previous three years combined.
Since the Nov. 4 elections, Obama has released 22 detainees, in sharp contrast to the period from 2011 to 2013 inclusive, when only 19 were released.
In the first six months of 2014, he had released only six detainees from the facility in Cuba — including the five members of the Taliban who were swapped for prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
With less than two years left in office, the president appears to be going full throttle, promising in a December interview on CNN “to do everything” he can to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise of shutting down Guantanamo, despite congressional opposition.
Gabriel Malor called this “cowardice” on Twitter earlier today:
Cowardice: Obama transferred more Gitmo detainees in the two months since the election than the three previous years. http://t.co/QQgz6xVYY9
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) January 2, 2015
The timing is certainly a measure of political pusillanimity, even though it seems doubtful that these releases would have made things appreciably worse for Obama in the 2014 midterms. The Bergdahl deal contributed to a sense of rudderless leadership at the White House, but Obama has been trumpeting his intention to shut down Gitmo for so long that the lack of action there was probably a larger drag with progressives, and did more damage overall. The damage in the middle and the Right was done long ago when Obama insisted on closing Gitmo, which remains a minor issue with voters, who largely support its continued operation.
It does bring up one question, though. Supposedly, the friction between Obama and Chuck Hagel was in part from the latter’s reluctance to release Gitmo detainees, a process which requires the Secretary of Defense to attest that such releases won’t endanger national security. Hagel has not yet left that position — he’s sticking around until Ashton Carter gets confirmed in the next session of Congress — so the bottleneck doesn’t appear to have been Hagel after all. That plays directly into Gabriel’s accusation of political cowardice, waiting for a point in time where voters can’t hold Obama accountable for his actions to free al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, even while previous efforts are being exposed as costly failures.
Speaking of costs, Michael Ramirez reminds us that money is a secondary consideration to the danger this presents to our armed forces — especially as we ramp up operations against ISIS:
John Hinderaker wonders how worried we should be by this trend:
Still, I don’t know how critical we should be of the administration’s approach. Are we going to hold the detainees forever, until they die of old age? That was never in the cards. After ten years or more, maybe they should be “resettled,” except for the really bad guys like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who should either be held forever, or shot. Preferably the latter.
I think Gitmo should stay open to house future detainees, but the Obama administration’s approach is to kill rather than capture. I don’t have any problem with that, except that you don’t get any intelligence from a drone strike. Apparently Obama is fine with that, and maybe human intelligence isn’t as important as it once was, when we knew almost nothing about al Qaeda. In any event, one way or another Obama will have Guantanamo Bay closed, in fact if not in name, by the time he leaves office.
The better question may be whether we keep Gitmo at all. It’s been suggested that Obama might be pushing the rapprochement with the Castros in Havana in order to negotiate an end to the lease for the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, which the US controls under a perpetual lease signed in the 1934 Avery Porko Treaty. That holds up until both governments agree to its dissolution, or the US abandons the facility altogether. Until now, there have been no diplomatic relations for talks on the status of Guantanamo Bay to occur. One imagines that the Castros will make that their top issue once reciprocal relations have been restarted, as the continued US presence has been an irritant to the Cuban government ever since the revolution.
Could Obama give away Guantanamo altogether? It’s possible, although it might take a treaty to repeal the arrangement, and that would have no chance of ratification in the GOP-controlled Senate. Given the nature of the 9/11 plotters, it might be the only way to close the Gitmo detention center — by making it permanently unavailable. Such a move would be tremendously unpopular in the US, even if it did allow Obama to achieve his campaign promise by default, as it would force Obama to move the untransferable detainees to the US or another facility abroad and remind everyone that the 9/11 plotters still haven’t faced justice. It would wrap Obama’s foreign policy around the necks of Democrats hoping to succeed Obama in 2016 even more than they will already be burdened by it, either forcing them to defend the retreat or castigate Obama for it — especially since the Castros will strengthen their regime immeasurably with such a victory over the Yanquís.
Under any other administration, that would be such a bad outcome that it would remain outside the realm of even casual consideration. In this jayvee administration, it’s not inconceivable.