Count Mitch McConnell among the unimpressed with Barack Obama’s plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The Senate Majority Leader responded to Obama’s declared plan to transfer its detainees to one or more of thirteen potential locations within the US by reminding the President that Congress has opposed such a move on a bipartisan basis. And, by the way, such a move would be illegal — under bills Obama has already signed:
Count Paul Ryan among the unimpressed as well:
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) February 23, 2016
NBC News noted that such transfers remain against the law, too:
Members of Congress have been demanding the Guantanamo plan for months, and those representing South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado have voiced opposition to housing the detainees in their states.
The administration is currently prohibited by law from moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.
“This isn’t even a case where the president can use some kind of pen and phone strategy by claiming the Congress refused to act,” McConnell said. The White House hasn’t officially ruled out the possibility of the president using executive action to close Guantanamo Bay prison if an agreement with Congress isn’t struck.
Basically, Obama will only get his way on closing Gitmo one of two ways: either convince Congress to legalize transfer of the unreleasable al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees to the US, or … release them. Gallup hasn’t polled on the topic since mid-2014, but Congress clearly responded to a bipartisan mandate to keep it open at that time, with 66% opposed to closure and only 29% supporting Obama’s position. A Rasmussen poll from January 2015 got similar results, 29/53. The fact that more polls haven’t been conducted on this question over the past couple of years attests to the broad consensus that Gitmo should stay open.
Neverthless, Obama demanded a “fair hearing” for his closure plan, and argued that Gitmo’s continued operation represents a “stain” on the honor of America:
This doesn’t seem to be a very good reason to park AQ and Taliban terrorists in the US:
And let me point out, the plan we’re submitting today is not only the right thing to do for our security, it will also save money. The Defense Department estimates that this plan, compared to keeping Guantanamo open, would lower costs by up to $85 million a year. Over 10 years, it would generate savings of more than $300 million. Over 20 years, the savings would be up to $1.7 billion. In other words, we can ensure our security, uphold our highest values around the world, and save American taxpayers a lot of money in the process.
Saving $85 million a year? Obama’s latest budget proposal demands a spending level over the next year of more than $4.1 trillion. That savings represents 0.0021% of Obama’s budget. The “savings” — assuming they actually would come to fruition — add up to 0.015% of the current defense budget ($585 billion). It’s only 17% of the money Obama threw away on Solyndra alone, even apart from his other green-energy busts like A123. And the government has a legitimate interest in defending the US from non-state terrorist networks — much less so than with venture-capital investments in shaky corporations.
I guess it beats this argument, though:
For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it. This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military. It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit. It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees. Guantanamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism. When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantanamo is not resolved.
Obama has been making this argument for as long as he’s been in Washington. It clearly hasn’t worked; if anything, it has hardened popular support for Gitmo’s operation. At $85 million a year over the alternative cost, it’s hardly “draining resources,” and it keeps terrorists where voters want them — out of the US. Nothing in this speech will change minds, let alone the hoary “recruiting tool” claim. Drone strikes are a much more potent recruiting tool; does Obama propose to stop those? No — because they serve American security, and so does Gitmo.