When President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he virtually guaranteed that the Guantanamo Bay prison will be with us for the indefinite future. So the Obama campaign pledge to close Guantanamo within one year of becoming president, which looked so easy to fulfill because it had become such a despised chamber of horrors internationally and an acute embarrassment to the U.S. public, is now a blown opportunity.
Provisions of the NDAA include a ban on any transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a U.S. prison, even for criminal trial, and the NDAA radically restricts the president’s authority to transfer detainees to foreign countries. What this means is that more than half of the remaining detainees — 89 of 171 — who have been fully cleared in a joint review, will remain in limbo, forming a continuing witness to the mockery the U.S. has made of the rule of law.
A conspiracy theorist could make a good case that the Congress, the courts and the general public — with an assist from a blundering president — have joined in a conspiracy to keep Guantanamo as an ongoing black mark on American jurisprudence. The DC Circuit Court allows indefinite detention based on unreliable intelligence reports, while denying the detainees the opportunity to rebut the reports. The U.S. Supreme Court has squandered the good press it got for reintroducing the rule of law to Guantanamo by declining to intervene to give real force to its prior rulings. We now know how badly the Hamdi decision was written, when both sides in the Senate debate over whether U.S. citizens should be specifically excluded from the reach of the NDAA, cited Hamdi as buttressing their respective arguments.
President Obama was earlier depicted in this blog piece as “blundering;” however, his actions in blocking all efforts at accountability for the abuses committed at Guantanamo, border or even reach the level of obstruction of justice.
The final actor in this tabloid of de facto, though not actual, conspiracy, is the general public, which 60 percent favored keeping Guantanamo open in a recent CNN poll. The shift in public sentiment over three years must be attributed in part to the failure of President Obama to make a compelling case to Congress and the general public why it is important to close Guantanamo and what it symbolizes.