Gitmo debate goes cold on Capitol Hill

A month ago, the New York Times reported that the White House had run up the white flag on closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, claiming that Congress refused to cooperate.  This month, Congress takes its turn in pointing a finger back to the Obama administration.  Roll Call reports that Congress has lost interest in the subject in the middle of a worsening economy, but also because the White House hasn’t produced a workable plan:

Closing Guantánamo has not been a point of “real, current discussion” in Congress, Hoyer said. “That’s not an issue being discussed very broadly. I think that you’re not going to see it discussed very broadly in the near term.”

A House Democrat who previously helped lead the charge for closing the facility had this to say when asked why he is no longer demanding action on the issue: “I forgot.”

The lawmaker said he was surprised by his and other lawmakers’ lack of attention to the issue given how much weight liberals threw behind trying to close the prison facility last year. “We were all worked up and signing letters and all kinds of stuff,” he said. …

But a Democrat familiar with negotiations on the matter said all parties recognize “what a nightmare this is: The administration doesn’t have a good plan yet.”

The Democrat said the Thomson facility is “maybe OK in theory,” but the problem is that administration officials “jumped ahead of the gun. They put the word out there before they had a solid plan in place or secured the support they needed from Congress. That opened the door for the GOP to come in with attacks that we’re importing terrorists into people’s backyards, which is the last thing Democrats need in an already tough election year.”

Frankly, that sounds like a good prioritization of issues.  Closing Gitmo solves no problems, and it creates a number of others.  The chief issue is the actual adjudication method for the remaining detainees, not the geographical location of their housing.  Proponents of closing Gitmo wanted to use a transfer to the US as a way to argue that the cases should be heard in federal court instead of the military commissions repeatedly authorized by Congress.  There is no other acute issue requiring an evacuation of the facility, and the issue of jurisdiction can be handled without the costs and risks of transfers.

The dispute between Democrats on the Hill and the White House show just how badly Barack Obama bungled his plan.  When he refused to get involved in drafting the specifics of ObamaCare, Obama said he’d learned a lesson from HillaryCare in not dictating outcomes to Congress.  He didn’t apply that lesson to Gitmo, and instead has tried to position himself as a prime mover on the project, with clearly poor results.

So what now?  Democrats won’t have as many seats when they return from the midterms, and Obama will get less cooperation on this issue from the 112th Congress as a result.  Clearly the issue has fallen off the radar for most Americans; closing Gitmo was never a high priority anyway, but now majorities oppose the idea and want the Beltway focused on the economy and jobs.  I’d be surprised if Gitmo isn’t operating in its same capacity as now in 2013 — and beyond.