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article imageOp-Ed: Remember when Obama promised to close Guantanamo?

By Ryan Hite     Jun 5, 2014 in Politics
Washington - Many believed Barack Obama when he promised to close Guantánamo. It sounds so silly now, but in the days after his first inauguration, I didn’t think twice that our president would not keep his promise to close the offshore prison in that year.
Congress resisted both releasing the detainees and moving them to a military prison on U.S. soil. After Eric Holder lost his time to try 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, Obama went away from the closure issue. Instead of trying the detainees in a federal court of law, the current administration has made do with sporadic proceedings before military courts and to offer a window to admitting evidence gathered by force. A hunger strike in the prison has become a spectacle on its own and many have died. Obama has kept the prison intact even though it has officially been in limbo for five years.
In exchange for the freedom of Sgt. Bergdahl, the president has released five prisoners who sound dangerous and are dangerous. They were not cleared for transfer. They had mid- or high-level roles in the Taliban throughout Afghanistan. These are not the kinds of detainees who wound up there because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or because the U.S. was offering bounties to Pakistanis for turning in anyone who was suspected of terrorism.
According to CNN, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, who was one of the five, “commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001, and served as chief of army staff under the Taliban regime. He has been accused of war crimes during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s.” What are the chances these men will end up joining up with extremists again? What are the chances that they return to Afghanistan as American troops pull out and add to the pile of woes that are surely in store there? The odds are high. Obama seems to have released five threatening prisoners rather than some of those who are not as threatening.
He didn’t tell Congress about the prisoner release 30 days ahead of time as recent federal law requires. His justification? He needed them for transfer. The idea is that if Congress had been notified 30 days in advance, the negotiations over the trade could have been jeopardized and ruining the chance to get a soldier back. Obama took it upon himself to create his own exception.
Obama called the signing of these statements an “abuse” when George W. Bush used them to “advance sweeping theories of executive power,” as Charles Savage said in the New York Times. Now he’s using signing statements to make his own grab for power. It is a double standard. It is the poster child of hypocrisy. It is not just a problem on one side or the other. Our government is a hotbed of hypocrisy.
Presidents tend toward overreach. Congress isn’t very good at pushing back. Each president who pushes more authority for his office makes it easier for the next one to push more of the same. This will be a part of Obama’s legacy over time.
Guantánamo looms largest and blackest now. I’m personally glad that United States policy isn’t driven by obsession over rescuing prisoners of war and I’m glad Bergdahl is home. He must have suffered through his time with the Taliban. What about the people in Guantanamo who are there for essentially no reason and held without a fair trial? What is the cost of the release of these prisoners?
Last month, the president said on NPR that “We cannot in good conscience maintain a system of indefinite detention in which individuals who have not been tried and convicted are held permanently in this legal limbo outside of this country.” That is the system he is maintaining because he can. The Supreme Court lost interest in Guantánamo many years ago. For Obama, in office, it is simply not worth the political price to stand up for miserable men in orange jumpsuits with long foreign names on the podium of congress. Guantanamo is out of the minds of most Americans. He used it in 2008 to get elected because people cared about it at the time.
There are 149 people left in that prison. How long will it stay there? How long will it be before the monster is slain?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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