Guantanamo Bay, And The Obama Administration's Failure Of Leadership

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 4, 2010


Say, remember all of this?

Lots of promises in that video. Not a one of them have come true yet.

Perhaps not a one of them ought to have come true yet; had Team Obama been willing to pay attention to all of those who sought to warn then-Senator-now-President Obama that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay would be a lot harder than he made it out to be, they would be less disappointed with their continuing failure to close the prison, and they would not have set themselves up for embarrassment on this issue. But of course, since so many of the people who sought to warn Team Obama that closing the prison would not be as easy as it was made out to be during the 2008 Presidential election season were affiliated with the Bush Administration and the Republican party, Team Obama thought that it could ignore their warnings. One hopes that they know better by now, but for some reason, I have my doubts.

As predictable as the Administration’s failure to close the prison has been the media’s efforts to paper over that failure, and to blame the delays on anyone but the President and his team. Unfortunately for the Administration and its apologists, Andrew Malcolm is on to their game, and has published an exceedingly valuable chronology of the efforts to close down the prison. This chronology shows that the bulk of the blame for the fact that the prison remains open rests with the Administration and Congressional Democrats. Of particular note is the following:

May 19, 2010: The House Armed Services Committee, controlled by members of….

…the president’s own Democratic party, absolutely prohibits any opening of a Guantanamo detention replacement facility within these United States. To underline its ban, the powerful committee erupts in an unusual display of bipartisanship: The prohibition vote is unanimous.

To be sure, Republicans put a lot of pressure on Democrats to prevent the opening of a detention replacement facility within the United States. But Democrats made few efforts to resist that pressure, and at the end of the day, they have helped ensure that the prison at Guantanamo will remain open for the foreseeable future. I am not privy to White House deliberations with its Congressional allies, so I cannot say for sure that Congressional Democrats did not catch significant amounts of Heck from the White House for failing to authorize a detention replacement facility, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that no tongue-lashing issued from the Administration; had the Presidential voice actually risen in anger, I am pretty certain that Congressional Democrats would have moved much more expeditiously by now to close the prison at Guantanamo. Of course, it is possible that the President waxed enraged at his Congressional Democratic allies, and they just ignored him. In which case, either (a) the Administration really wants to close the prison, and its Congressional Democratic allies are not willing to be helpful; or (b) neither the Administration, nor its Congressional Democratic allies are interested in giving anything more than lip service to the notion of closing the prison. Whatever the scenario, those who voted to make Barack Obama President ought to be severely disappointed in the fact that his Administration either does not care about actually closing the prison, or does not have the power to make others care.

I mentioned earlier the media’s general lack of focus on the Administration’s failure to close the prison. It is worth emphasizing over and over the fact that if we had had an actual, competent media, willing to speak truth to power, and to hold the feet of the powerful to the fire–no matter the identity of those in power at a given moment–we would have heard a great deal more about the Administration’s singular failure of leadership on the issue of Guantanamo Bay. Instead, it took a massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast to reveal the degree to which the Administration is incapable of providing genuine leadership on important issues facing the country.

I suppose that it would be easy to celebrate all of this if one is a Republican opposed to seeing the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. In fact, however, everyone who wishes to see the United States go from strength to strength ought to be concerned by the Administration’s floundering on this issue. One wonders what other challenges Team Obama will botch in the near future. And one wonders what leaders in countries whose interests may not be in line with those of the United States will think once they have a chance to observe more of this Administration in action.

  • Rolf

    I think it's too easy to blame here. Guantanamo Bay and the War on Terror are not Republicn or Democrat issues, they are American issues. Having been a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Brigade that made the recommendation to the Pentagon for a detention center location, and which recommended Gitmo, I will tell you many other sites were considered, including Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean), Guam (Pacific Ocean), and Hawaii. Needless to say, most of us voted for Hawaii. In the ned, as it is with all military missions, the location is selected for many reasons, but the most important is alway security, then communications, and then logistics. Gitmo is the absolute safest place for the detainees and for the U.S. personnel taking care of them. As for closing it, only the press and the liberal left have said they want it closed and for no other reason than “reputation.” We can't go around making decisions because of what other people think. Al Qaeda's playbook specifically says to condemn the detantion facility, lie about how you were treated there, and use these lies to recruit others into the fold. It's not about Gitmo, it's about anywhere we keep battlefield detainees. I think Obama has realized that as Commander-in-Chief his first obligation is to protect the people of the United States, and to do that, we need a secure location for those who would kill us if they could. The detainees (al Qaeda, Taliban, soldiers-of-fortune, and mercinaries) are all illegal combatant, non-signators to the Law of Ladn Warfare (Geneva Conventions), and therefore are not entitled to its protections. Even if they were entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions they would not be lawfully required to be released until “hostilities cease.” In this Global War on Terror, with U.S. troops in over 70 countries world wide, may not be “over” for quite some time, so holding detainees indefinitely is definitely in our best interest.

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