More so than in any other administration, Friday nights have become a game in themselves for people to see what kind of embarrassing and politically damaging information the White House wants to hide in the virtual news blackout of Saturdays. Usually it involves policy and personnel changes that would tend to anger their base — and this week may be the granddaddy of Friday Night news dumps. The New York Times reports that sources within the administration have all but thrown in the towel on closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and now want to shift the blame to Congress:
Still, some senior officials say privately that the administration has done its part, including identifying the Illinois prison — an empty maximum-security center in Thomson, 150 miles west of Chicago — where the detainees could be held. They blame Congress for failing to execute that endgame.
“The president can’t just wave a magic wand to say that Gitmo will be closed,” said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking on a sensitive issue. …
One administration official argued that the White House was still trying. On May 26, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, James Jones, sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee reiterating the case.
But Mr. Levin portrayed the administration as unwilling to make a serious effort to exert its influence, contrasting its muted response to legislative hurdles to closing Guantánamo with “very vocal” threats to veto financing for a fighter jet engine it opposes.
Last year, for example, the administration stood aside as lawmakers restricted the transfer of detainees into the United States except for prosecution. And its response was silence several weeks ago, Mr. Levin said, as the House and Senate Armed Services Committees voted to block money for renovating the Illinois prison to accommodate detainees, and to restrict transfers from Guantánamo to other countries — including, in the Senate version, a bar on Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. About 130 of the 181 detainees are from those countries.
“They are not really putting their shoulder to the wheel on this issue,” Mr. Levin said of White House officials. “It’s pretty dormant in terms of their public positions.”
The “wave a wand” gripe should elicit loud peals of laughter from both sides of the aisle. Barack Obama’s critics on his Gitmo position made that very same point repeatedly, both before the 2008 presidential election and after Obama made his order to close Gitmo his first official act as President. Any such move required the President to find a different and yet still suitable detention facility, one where foreign terrorists captured by military and intelligence personnel would have separate adjudication from Americans in normal criminal courts, and one which could be secured properly for its purpose. It would then have to contemplate the costs and benefits of such a move when in the end the detainees would end up using the very same processes they currently have for adjudication.
If Congress has dragged its feet, it’s only because no one can really explain how closing Gitmo while retaining the military commissions systems justifies the costs and the risks. The issue the Left has with Gitmo isn’t its geographical location, after all. When Obama committed to using the military commissions system to process the rest of the detainees in Gitmo, he himself mooted the necessity of closing it. And for good reason — the use of criminal courts to try foreign terrorists in military or intel contexts would either result in botched prosecutions, or in changing the rules that protect American residents against undue prosecutorial power in criminal court.
The only one waving a wand on Gitmo was Obama himself. And now he hopes to wave another wand in a Friday night news dump to keep his Left from erupting in outrage over Obama’s white flag on Gitmo. Best of luck with that, Mr. President.