Obama Promises at SOTU to Keep Working to Close Gitmo

Promised to close it years ago.


National Guard

Tonight's State of the Union address, filled with promises and allusions to unilateral executive action to achieve his goals, includes President Obama promising again he would try again to shut down Guantanamo Bay. He tied the promise to examples of American leadership around the globe like working on climate change, bringing peace to Colombia (torn apart by war in no small part due to interventionist U.S. policies in the first place), and fighting malaria. "That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo," Obama's prepared remarks state. "It's expensive, it's unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies."

One of Barack Obama's first executive orders when he assumed the presidency in 2009 ordered the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. naval base located on the island of Cuba, by the end of that year.

Seven years later, the prison camp is still open, although its population has decreased from more than 700 to about 100. Last month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress the administration was planning on transferring a number of detainees at the beginning of 2016—ten will be transferred on Thursday, with four other detainees already transferred this year and plans to transfer at least three more in the coming weeks.

President Obama's efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp were thwarted just a few months after he signed his executive order, when the Senate added a provision to an appropriations bill to block the funding for transferring and releasing detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

Obama played a minor role—he signed the bill into law—but a veto would have likely been overridden anyway. Just six senators (all Democrat) voted against the amendment, and Democratic leadership in the Senate was fully on-board. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he'd work to release the funding if the White House presented a detailed plan on Guantanamo transfers and releases. "Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president," Reid said at the time. We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States."

In 2011, Obama signed a defense authorization bill that included even more restrictions on Guantanamo transfers. Now, in the twilight of his second term, the White House insists it will try again. Over the weekend the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said in an interview President Obama was committed to closing the facility before the end of his term. Tonight the country heard he'd at least give it a try.

Check out Reason TV's "Guantanamo Bay in 54 Seconds" below:

NEXT: Reason State of the Union Live Tweet

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  1. “And if a Republican is elected this year, I promise that on January 19, 2017 I’ll sign an order to close Gitmo, so that if the new Republican President re-opens it the Democrats can blame him.

    1. Exactly.

    2. As the article points out, Obama did issue an order to close Gitmo (a very lawyerly, mealymouthed order), but since then, his stance has been “Well, I wanted to close Gitmo, but those mean old Republicans won’t let me.”

      This is a situation that makes both of them look really bad. Obama: You’re the damn Commander In Chief. Grow a a pair and issue some orders and see that they get carried out. Meanwhile, the Republicans look like they have their heads lodged firmly up their asses, and they’re probably just handing Obama what he actually wanted: a chance to not actually have to worry about the details of the thing AND to get to blame the Republicans for it.

  2. unilateral executive action to achieve his goals

    Libertarian Moment!

  3. Simple way to close it – abide by the Geneva convention and execute all non lawful combatants (ie any one not wearing a uniform).

    1. That’s . . . not how the Convention works.

      1. The convention prevents summary execution of POW’s – even refusing to take a surrender is considered summary execution.

      2. What the Convention *allows* regarding non-POW prisoners and what it *requires* are very different things.

      3. We (and the rest of the West) stopped executing franc-tireurs/partisans/insurgents during WW2.

      1. Also not wearing a uniform does not push you into ‘non-lawful combatant’ status. And ‘uniform’ has a pretty broad meaning – all it requires is *most* everyone wear a single piece of standardized clothing. Doesn’t even have to be the same material, color, or cut as long as its close.

        The American military, for example, has a different uniform for each of the services, up to and including special identifying clothing all the way down to the unit level. There’s nothing uniform about our military.

        1. While US military can have certain distinctiveness among its unit symbols, there is no mistaking it both for being a military unit and to what country it is affiliated. This is contrasted with people who dress as civilians, use civilian facilities as bases, and use civilians as shields.

      2. What about spies and saboteurs?

        1. Again – spies and saboteurs *out of uniform* can be summarily executed, in certain circumstances.

          – but the Convention does not *require* you to do so.

          But its moot as nobody in Gitmo was ever taken in as a spy or saboteur. And in any case, the justifications for summary execution passed long ago – we’ve had a significant chunk of those guys for a decade – you don’t do summary execution because you *can, you do it because you *have to* and there’s no way to legitimately claim that at this point in time.

  4. more hollow pronouncements from a hollow man.

    1. He may be a man without substance or principles, but I know he’s full of something

  5. You are now set free to marry a first cousin or gang up with your other cousins to grope the White women at public festivities.

    I foresee no downside to this. Ironically.

  6. Nobody ever took me up on my idea: Military trials for all inmates, and execute them all. Problem solved.

    1. Why have a trial at all if the verdict is predetermined?

      1. OK, you slave to the rule of law: military trials, execute the guilty, and let the rest go (with a quiet warning that they should not attend the wrong weddings, if you know what I mean, and I think you do). But let’s not pretend that Gitmo is filled with innocents.

    2. If they’re not POW’s then you can’t try them as POW’s. If they’re POW’s then they’re afforded the protections of POW – including not being murdered because they lost.

      1. Not everyone captured in a war is legally a POW. Spies, saboteurs, illegal combatants fighting without markings or uniforms: all can be legally tried by military courts and executed under the Geneva Conventions.

        Of course, I am not a lawyer, and no doubt there would controversy, but there seems to be enough legal backing that if they wanted to do it, they could. (Well, or could have done. Now is probably too late.)

  7. Geez, do you need a flowchart?

    Q: Is he al Qaeda?

    1. If Yes, shoot his ass.

    1. What is 2.?

      1. Is there a “No” condition? You can’t help but wonder…

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