That should prove relatively easy, since transferring Gitmo detainees to the US remains illegal — under a law signed by Barack Obama. Paul Ryan promised a fight in both the legislative and judicial arenas to stop Obama’s latest iteration of his demand to shutter the detention facility at the Guantanamo naval base:
Ryan told reporters Wednesday that lawmakers have the votes to block Obama’s plan in Congress and enough votes to override any veto. Separately, the Wisconsin Republican said the GOP is “taking all legal preparations necessary” to ensure the prison remains open and terror suspects aren’t moved to the U.S.
In truth, it will probably take only a minimal effort on both fronts. Obama keeps making the same demands with the same arguments, and voters keep rejecting them by wider and wider margins. Congress responds to the will of voters … well, at least theoretically. In cases with this kind of broad consensus, though, it’s clear that Obama’s on the fringe in wanting to bring terrorists back to the US.
In my column for The Week, I call yesterday “Gitmohog Day,” nothing more than the final annual sop for a presidential promise that has become impossible to deliver. It doesn’t help that his arguments have become almost parodies of themselves:
Few of the arguments have changed over the years. Obama once again claimed that the the operation of Guantanamo’s detention facility gives Islamist terror groups a major recruitment propaganda point. That claim has always been suspect. The original raison d’être of al Qaeda was the so-called American “occupation” of Muslim land via our military and diplomatic presence in Asia and Africa. Their original targets, outside of the World Trade Center in 1993, reflected their earliest demands — bombings on Americans housed in the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, two in 1998 at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors. All of these terrorist attacks, and the 9/11 attacks in 2001, took place long before the detention center at Guantanamo was refurbished for potentially unlawful combatants captured by our military, intelligence services, and allies.
Even if al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban mention Guantanamo Bay in their propaganda, is it reasonable to believe that this is the primary driver of anti-American hatred in their recruiting territories? Drone strikes in their neighborhoods matter more than a handful of would-be terrorists sitting in one particular prison over another. Our continued military presence in the Middle East and diplomatic presence in Asia and Africa matter more as well. We pursue those policies because they enhance our national security, and we don’t back down just because terrorist groups dislike it. Why should Americans agree to transfer terrorists to the U.S. to pander to the unpanderable? …
One argument was particularly strange. “But 15 years after 9/11,” Obama scolded, “15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history, we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks — not a single one.” Voters can be pardoned for scratching their heads and asking, Who’s been in charge the last seven years? That’s not an indictment of Guantanamo — it’s an indictment of Obama’s leadership. Congress repeatedly modified the military commission process to meet the demands of Obama and other Democrats up to and including in 2009, but this administration has dragged its heels on using those processes in a petulant bid to get Congress to agree to close Gitmo. Eric Holder once announced that he would unilaterally try the 9/11-linked detainees in New York, only to get shouted down by Democrats like Chuck Schumer.
Small wonder, then, that Congress has followed the broad consensus on Obama’s demand. They passed a bill making it illegal to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S. on a bipartisan basis; Obama signed it into law as part of the budget process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan both reminded Obama of this after his Gitmohog Day performance on Tuesday, and Ryan pledged that the law would remain in place. At least we know spring is just a few weeks away.
If Obama wants to know why his promise to close Gitmo has failed so utterly, The Guardian has identified the culprit — Obama himself. The conservative reaction was predictable, Spencer Ackerman writes, but Obama turned Guantanamo into a fetish by offering to change nothing else but the location. At that point, Ackerman notes, there wasn’t much for progressives to support:
“The president,” said Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights, “has no one but himself to blame for the fact that Guantánamo has been open longer under his watch than under the prior administration.” …
Yet with the exception of torture, Obama chose to retain every objectionable practice at Guantánamo. While he said he preferred to try detainees in civilian courts, he defended the military commissions, and downplayed his 2006 Senate vote against them, calling them an “appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war”.
Most importantly, Obama conceded a role for indefinite detention – this time in the United States. He called them “a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States”. …
The human rights groups so encouraged by Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo smelled a bait-and-switch. Even if Obama got what he wanted, he wouldn’t be closing the facility in any substantive fashion. The indefinite detentions without charge, the military commissions, everything, save torture, that made Guantanamo internationally infamous would live on, except this time closer to home.
That has been the conservatives’ point all along. If this is a war against radical Islamist terror networks, and Congress certainly made it so with its 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, then the capture of unlawful combatants requires military commissions at best. There is no reason to offer them access to the civilian judicial system, only to provide due process. That is especially true for those captured by military or intelligence services in a wartime context, or by our allies in the war.
And if that’s the case, then location makes little difference except for US security concerns. Given Gitmo’s remote location and lack of access to potential escape routes, it serves as perhaps the best option, and one that should remain in place. Obama has never offered a good reason for its closure, and the litany of tired and debunked arguments do not grow any more effective with repetition.