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: