At a news conference today, President Obama announced that once again he is going to try to overcome congressional cowardice and close GITMO.
The president made the case that America can handle prosecuting terrorists in criminal court. He said he understood why things were done the way they were after 9/11, but “We are a decade out. We should be wiser. We have more experience.” The president argued that GITMO is not necessary, and it is not needed. The president said, “It’s easy to demagogue the issue. That’s what happened the first time this came up. I’m going to go back at it because I think it’s important.” Obama made his case by pointing to all of the criminal court convictions for terrorism that have occurred without any additional danger to the country.
The GITMO issue is one of the most misunderstood on the left. On an almost daily basis, there are articles published on the left bemoaning “Obama’s GITMO failure.” The problem is that Obama didn’t fail. Congress did. Back in 2009, Republicans originally praised the president for trying to close GITMO. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said, “We support President Obama’s decision to close the prison at Guantanamo, reaffirm America’s adherence to the Geneva Conventions, and begin a process that will, we hope, lead to the resolution of all cases of Guantanamo detainees.”
In May of 2009 Harry Reid caved to right wing pressure and concerns about his reelection campaign. Reid pulled the rug out from the president on closing GITMO, “I agree with President Bush. I agree with John McCain. I agree with Barack Obama. Guantanamo makes us less safe. However, this is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.”
The president tried again the next year to close GITMO, only to be betrayed by his own party, “In May 2010 the Democratically controlled House Armed Services Committee votes unanimously to prohibit the opening of any GITMO replacement facility in the United States, and the dream of closing GITMO was dead.”
In 2011, Obama issued a signing statement taking on Congressional refusal to fund closing GITMO. The president wrote, “In this bill, the Congress has once again included provisions that would bar the use of appropriated funds for transfers of Guantanamo detainees into the United States (section 8119 of Division A), as well as transfers to the custody or effective control of foreign countries unless specified conditions are met (section 8120 of Division A). These provisions are similar to others found in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. My Administration has repeatedly communicated my objections to these provisions, including my view that they could, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles. In approving this bill, I reiterate the objections my Administration has raised regarding these provisions, my intent to interpret and apply them in a manner that avoids constitutional conflicts, and the promise that my Administration will continue to work towards their repeal.”
Here we are in 2013, and the president is trying again to close GITMO. The problem is that Congress is scared of looking soft on terrorism, so they refuse to fund the closure of GITMO and the movement of the detainees. It has always been the president’s goal to have the detainees tried in court. However, Congress refuses to fund anything, but the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The right wing screams of Obama being soft on terrorism are coming, but that is to be expected. The real problem will be the inevitable retreat of Senate Democrats who will once again place their reelection ahead of doing what is right.
Instead of criticizing the president, the left should be standing behind him while he continues to try to get the members of his own party to do the right thing.
If the activists out there really want to see GITMO closed, they need to unleash unyielding pressure on members of Congress. The president can’t do this without congressional funding, and he needs the power of the left to get Congress to understand that they will be held accountable for their potential inaction.
Tell Congress that this issue isn’t, “out of sight, out of mind.” If you believe in what America should be, stand up and demand funding for the closure of GITMO.