Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Guantanamo Explained

What vision does Congress have for the prison?

Congress does not want Guantanamo prisoners released in the United States, out of a fear that they might be dangerous, even if they have been cleared for release. Congress does not want Guantanamo prisoners held in prisons in the US for fear that the prisoners may be able to coordinate plots from within the prison, might be able to stage a prison break, or that the prison may be the sight of an attack to free the prisoners. Congress doesn’t want prisoners tried in civilian courts in the United States because in their minds Ahmed Ghailani almost got away as a result of his trial.

How committed is Congress to its vision?

Very committed.

What vision does the President have for the prison?

President Obama wanted to bring prisoners scheduled to face a military commission or to be held in indefinite detention to a prison in Thompson, Illinois. He wanted to try some prisoners in civilian courts and release others. He, like Congress, is committed to indefinite detention, the idea that there are some prisoners who are too dangerous to release but for whom there is not enough evidence to bring to trial. He would like to close the physical prison at Guantanamo eventually.

How committed is the President to his vision?

Not very. Most, if not all, of his other goals (immigration reform, progress on gay rights, a climate change bill, a grand bargain on reducing the deficit) are more important to him than getting what he wants on Guantanamo.

Why is the prison still open?

Congress’s vision requires that Guantanamo stay open and Congress is much more committed to its vision for Guantanamo than the President is.

Why didn’t Obama meet his 1 year deadline to close the prison?

It wasn’t until 11 months into his 12 month deadline that Obama actually had determined exactly how he wanted to deal with Guantanamo. This was primarily because his Guantanamo task force that determined the administration’s plan on what to do with each prisoner took longer to do so than he had expected. This was partly because it took time to find all of the physical documents about each prisoner. The plan Obama decided on in December 2009 wouldn’t have even allowed him to close Guantanamo on time, the prisoners cleared for release would have been continued to be held at Guantanamo. As 83 prisoners cleared for release remain there to this day, it appears that Guantanamo would still be open today even if Obama had gotten everything he wanted.

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