Obama could use controversial executive order to shut down Gitmo – report
As Obama’s time in office inches towards a conclusion, he is reportedly weighing a last-ditch attempt to fulfil a campaign promise and close Guantanamo prison once and for all. The White House however says he is not planning to override the law.
Senior officials in the Obama administration told reporters at the Wall Street Journal that Obama may bypass a potential legislative effort to finally close the US military’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by taking executive action. The President campaigned on closing the prison ‒ currently the home to nearly 150 terror suspects ‒ when vying for the White House ahead of both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
“Such a move would be the latest and potentially most dramatic use of executive power by the President in his second term,” the WSJ wrote. It would harken back to the first day of Obama’s first term, when he signed an executive order declaring his intention to close down Gitmo.
Over the last several years, the population at the detention center has declined as prisoners began to be repatriated to their home countries or sent to other countries ‒ such as Uruguay ‒ that are willing to receive the former terrorists as refugees.
Obama’s potential plan could bring the detainees from Cuba to domestic prisons, in defiance of Congress. “As the number becomes smaller at Guantanamo, the case for domestic transfers…becomes that much stronger,” one senior administration official said.
The House of Representatives has already voted to sue he commander-in-chief over other executive actions he has undertaken over the course of his presidency.
Unilateral action “would ignite a political firestorm, even if it’s the best resolution for the Guantanamo problem,” said American University law professor Stephen Vladeck. He told the WSJ he thinks that Republicans will oppose the plan, while Democrats could be split.
White House denies Obama considering executive action
Officially, the US administration has denied that an executive action to shut down the detention center is in the works, and insisted that Obama will be seeking Congress’ cooperation in lifting restrictions on transfers of prisoners from Guantanamo.
“Since the President came into office in 2009 the administration has been examining all possible ways we could get to closure of the facility, but we are not drafting options to override the law,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, according to Reuters.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz confirmed that the President is only asking Congress to lift restrictions against Gitmo’s closure. “Our position right now, our policy right now, is seeking support from Congress to lift the restrictions that we feel are misguided,” he said.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is leading the lawsuit against Obama, has already come out against the idea.
“An overwhelming majority of the American people and bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate oppose importing the terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay into the United States, yet the White House continues to move forward with its plan,” the Republican leader wrote in a statement.“Even as Islamic jihadists are beheading Americans, the White House is so eager to bring these terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the United States that it is examining ways to thwart Congress and unilaterally re-write the law,” he continued. “Not only is this scheme dangerous, it is yet another example of what will be this administration’s legacy of lawlessness.”
Boehner also accused the president of “thumb[ing] his nose at the American people and the Constitution” if he “bring[s] these terrorists to US soil.”
In Congress’ upper house, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) pledged to “shut down the Senate” with a filibuster, the WSJ reported.
“I stopped him once from trying to send the Gitmo terrorists to Leavenworth” prison in Kansas, Roberts said. “I shall do it again, I shall do it again and if he tries it I will shut down the Senate.”“Ted Cruz did it with regards to Obamacare, if necessary I’ll do it for terrorists,” the 78-year-old continued. “I don’t know if I could do 21 hours – maybe 22 or 23. … I will have help on this. I could see John McCain there, I could see Lindsey Graham there. I could see Kelly Ayotte there and I could see a whole bunch of other people there.”
The cost of Gitmo and repatriation
Most of the nearly 800 men held at Guantanamo since it opened in 2002 were released during the George W. Bush administration. Of the 149 who remain, 79 have been approved for transfer by national-security officials but remain because of political or diplomatic obstacles in repatriating them.
A Gallup poll released in June said 29 percent of Americans support closing Guantanamo Bay and transferring detainees to US prisons, while 66 percent oppose the idea.
“The slow pace is the result of the law that gives Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — not the commander in chief — the final authority to transfer any of the 149 terror suspects being held at Guantanamo,” the Associated Press reported in September. “Pentagon officials say they must carefully consider the risks before signing off, given that others have returned to terrorism.”
Another 37 Guantanamo prisoners have been designated for continued detention without trial. These are men considered too dangerous to release, yet against whom the government lacks usable evidence.
A further 23 have been referred for prosecution by military commission, where 10 detainees are in pretrial hearings, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants accused of orchestrating the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Keeping the detention center open will cost the government $5.2 billion by the end of this year, according to the Department of Defense’s Office of the Comptroller. That amounts to roughly $2.7 million per inmate per year. That’s in contrast with $78,000 at a supermax prison on the mainland, administration officials say.