What a difference a year makes, or to quote Jim Geraghty, even Barack Obama’s executive orders have an expiration date. Obama acknowledged today what has been obvious for months — that the US was not going to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in January. In fact, Obama won’t even talk about deadlines to the New York Times:
President Obama acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that his administration would miss a self-imposed deadline to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by mid-January, admitting the difficulties of following through on one of his first pledges as president.
“Guantánamo, we had a specific deadline that was missed,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NBC News in Beijing during his weeklong trip to Asia. Mr. Obama said that he now hoped to shut down the detention facility sometime next year, but he did not set a new deadline.
“We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantánamo will be closed next year,” Mr. Obama said in a separate interview with Fox News. “I’m not going to set an exact date because a lot of this is also going to depend on cooperation from Congress.”
The prospects for fully shutting down Guantánamo have been dimming for months as the administration stumbled over a litany of political and logistical tripwires. Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel who drafted the order to close the facility, announced last week that he was stepping down. During the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Obama railed against the detention complex on an American military base in Cuba, calling it a symbol used by terrorists to recruit new members. Within days of his inauguration, he ordered Guantánamo closed by January.
As with many of his “expiration dates,” this one is something to cheer. The rush to close a facility designed for a specific and necessary purpose revealed just how unique Gitmo actually is — and how necessary as well. Obama did his best to ship out as many Gitmo detainees as people would take, but apparently to his surprise, most people don’t want radical Islamist terrorists living in their countries. The hard-core terrorists at Gitmo won’t fit in normal detention centers, and even the promise of jobs to Obama’s home state of Illinois doesn’t have the citizens of the Land of Lincoln enthused about housing al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.
The problem, as Obama discovered, is that Gitmo really isn’t the problem in the first place. It’s a housing facility, and designed with terrorist detainees in mind. The questions of due process and adjudication don’t relate to the facility, but to the processes used by the US for those purposes. Congress has repeatedly made this point to Obama, and the fact that the US spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the prison to ready it for its current mission. It would have to duplicate that effort in order to close Gitmo while still securing the people detained there.
Instead of taking the time to review the issues and confer with Congress, Obama instead leaped to sign his executive order closing Gitmo within a year. It speaks to the unpreparedness of the President that he didn’t understand that issue despite demagoguing on it for two years on the campaign trail. Now Obama has made himself look foolish, parted with an ally in Craig in order to lay blame for the failure, and is no closer to meeting what Obama himself proclaimed as one of his highest priorities as Commander in Chief.