Remember back on January 23, 2009, when Obama made one of the boldest moves a newly signed in President has ever made; a presidential order for the closure of the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, affectionately known to the public as Gitmo(almost sounds like Gizmo, the furry cuddly creature from those Gremlin flicks), symbolically closing out the old Bush Administration, who had been herding detainees suspected of terrorism or ties to terrorism since its establishment in January 2002? Well, if you forgot, you’ll remember soon enough, as new reports make their way to your living room. Since Obama’s closure declaration, the notorious facility has naggingly remained open. But wait…I thought President Obama gave a presidential order to close Gitmo? Why is Gitmo still open? What happened? And why did we suddenly forget about this place?
Here is what was originally mandated, straight from a White House memorandum:
“By the authority vested in me as President and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40, 115 Stat. 224), and in order to facilitate the closure of detention facilities at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, I hereby direct that the following actions be taken as expeditiously as possible with respect to the facility known as the Thomson Correctional Center (TCC) in Thomson, Illinois.”
Basically, the President wanted to close Gitmo and move the facility to Thomson, Illinois. Here is the full memorandum from December 15, 2009 (almost a full year later): http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-closure-dentention-facilities-guantanamo-bay-naval-base
So what happened? Did the memo get lost in transition? According to ABC News, and those who still remember watching a bit of Obama’s campaign for presidency way back when and can recall some of the promises he made, if he were elected, that “[he] vowed so many times that he would shutter the prison he [personally] called a recruitment tool for terrorists.” Yet here we are, just over 100 days on Obama’s second term as President and only now has the name Gitmo resurfaced enough to garner public attention. Didn’t Obama also get a Nobel Peace Prize…and in his speech said something like, “I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.” You can check out Obama’s full speech here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-acceptance-nobel-peace-prize. Yet Gitmo has remained opened, despite harsh rhetoric.
So, what happened? Basically and simply, according to ABC News and Obama’s own press conference this past Tuesday on, April 30, 2013, that he had “run into plenty of opposition in Congress.” More to the point, Obama is saying that lawmakers had passed a bill preventing any federal money to be spent in transferring Gitmo detainees to the United States. The legislator were fundamentally saying, “We don’t want them here!” According to Gallup Poll conducted back in June 2009, “Americans [were] especially resistant to closing the prison and transferring the terrorism suspects to prisons in their own states — only 23% favor this, while 74% are opposed.” Senator John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota, is quoted in the New York Times, saying:
“The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods. The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their back yard, either.”
Are they really going to be walking the streets John… not likely, but yet, even some of the Democrats, at the time, voted against the measure to move Gitmo to the states, including Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the very state Obama had originally planned to move the facility. In 2009, according to the New York Times, “lawmakers in both parties [had]criticized [Obama] for not providing a more detailed plan for what will be done with the [then] 240 detainees currently held in the prison.” Basically, Obama is blaming congressional opposition, even opposition in his own party; while on the other hand, the very same oppositional voices are blaming Obama for not having a more detailed plan. To be sure, closing Gitmo seemed to be one of the boldest moves a newly elected president could make; perhaps too bold. Not that Obama was wrong. Here is a bit of his speech yesterday during Tuesday’s news conference:
“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep us safe. It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
So, now that we know, to an extent, why it was put on the back burner. Why all the sudden interest of late? Didn’t we purposely forget about this place? Well, it seems that a majority of the detainees are on a hunger strike. According to Huffington Post, the number of strikers has reached 100 this past Saturday out of the remaining 186 prisoners. The hunger strike first began two week ago after an April 13th raid, which forced detainees living in a communal facility into individual cells. Twenty of the detainees are being force-fed (which hurts like hell by the way, with the big tube going up your nose and down the throat…); five are in the hospital. According to MSNBC, events which led to the April 13th raid have worsened living conditions for the prisoners. Ranjana Natarajan, an attorney who represents one of the detainees, told MSNBC that:
“They moved with relative freedom and used the communal outdoor space for group activities including soccer. Now their cells are locked for most of the day and their physical activity is strictly regulated. Guards are intentionally interfering with detainees’ sleep by offering recreational time and showers in the middle of the night.”
On Tuesday, during the press conference, Obama alluded to the problem of indefinite detention, stating that:
“The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”
Kenneth Wainstein, a former top national security official at the Justice Department during the Bush administration, is quoted by the New York Times, saying:
“The situation is not sustainable. There are strong, principled arguments on both sides, but all of us across the spectrum have to acknowledge that this is far from an ideal situation and we need an exit strategy.”
Do we have an exit strategy? Should we have an exit strategy? According to Gitmo’s Muslim advisor, despite now being force fed (which is against international medical regulations), at least one detainee will die before the hunger strike ends. The question is then; will we allow it to go that far? Do we still dread having a super-max here in the states?