When Ed wrote about a fire sale at Gitmo last week, he asked a few pertinent questions. Among them was the possibility that Obama might be looking to dump the facility entirely as part of the new diplomatic dealings with the Cuban government. (More of a probability, actually.) But another question might be whether or not the President will even have to worry about it. After all, why concern yourself with closing or giving away a facility if it’s already empty? And that might be possible, considering that there will shortly be two more groups of inmates heading out the door.
In a series of secret nighttime flights in the last two months, the Obama administration made more progress toward the president’s goal of emptying the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, than it had since 2009. The accelerated pace came after an era of political infighting and long bureaucratic delays.
Now 127 prisoners remain at Guantánamo, down from 680 in 2003, and the Pentagon is ready to release two more groups of prisoners in the next two weeks; officials will not provide a specific number. President Obama’s goal in the last two years of his presidency is to deplete the Guantánamo prison to the point where it houses 60 to 80 people and keeping it open no longer makes economic sense.
What’s perhaps even more interesting here is the renewed focus on whether or not the Gitmo situation was an even bigger factor than previously supposed in the nomination of Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel at Defense. Hagel was apparently too cautious about the Guantanamo catch and release program and had the ability to significantly slow the rate of prisoners being shipped out. In the article, Carter is described by those familiar with him as having his ear to the ground in terms of Washington politics. He’s well aware that Obama wants the facility shut down, and getting more and more of the terrorists off our hands would certainly facilitate the process.
Of course, the real motive for these moves seems to be obvious to everyone in the inner circle. (emphasis added)
“If the president doesn’t succeed in making substantial steps to closing Gitmo now, it will have a very severe impact on his legacy,” said J. Wells Dixon, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented Guantánamo prisoners.
When it comes to balancing national security against the President’s legacy, it seems to have been a fairly easy call. Now the only remaining question is which tax we will need to increase this year to pay the next set of five million dollar rewards for whichever of these guys heads back to the battlefield next.