President Obama campaigned on closing the Guantánamo Bay prison and signed an executive order two days after taking office ordering the prison to be closed within a year. The prison remains open 1 1/2 years after that order.
President Obama, President Bush, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and General David Petraeus all have expressed support that the prison be closed.
There are symbolic and substantive reasons for the prison to be closed. The prison remains -- yes, even during the Obama presidency -- a recruiting tool for terrorists because the vast majority of detainees were, and still are, held there without charges in a legal black hole. The substantive reason is that the prison flies in the face of the American legal system -- detainees continue to be held for years without charges, access to a lawyer, or any due process.
So why hasn't the prison been closed?
The Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress blame each other for not doing enough, reports the New York Times this morning. The Obama Administration says that the President "can't wave a magic wand" while Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of the Armed Services Committee, said, "They [the Obama Administration] are not really putting their shoulder to the wheel on this issue."
Though Congress and the President are often coequal branches of government, on matters of national security, the President rules. Just as stopping war funding would be considered political suicide for Congress, the President should assert that closing Guantánamo is a matter of national security -- the longer its kept open, the more terrorists Al-Qaeda can recruit. But he's been quiet. And the executive branch has used its muscle before on defense matters, like eliminating the F-22 or opposing another engine for the F-35.
This silence has been part of a trend of the Obama Administration being meek in defending its record on national security. A bomb fizzled in a man's underwear on an airplane bound for Detroit as did a bomb in Times Square wherein the terrorist was so exasperated that he had to call his landlord to let him in. These attempts were amateur and uncoordinated in contrast to the deadly accuracy and simultaneity of Al Qaeda attacks on 9/11 and in London and Madrid. But opponents have successfully made them as "almost succeeding" and thus blanketed the airwaves about these terrorists getting "constitutional rights" and our country being in danger. Actually, both of them gave up a lot of information because the legal system gives them incentives to cooperate. (In which situation would you cooperate: if you were to be tortured at a black site and held for years without charges or had the possibility of seeing your family again if you were serving life in a Supermax prison?) But the Administration doesn't talk about this so 60 percent of Americans favor keeping Guantánamo open.
The Obama Administration says that it has identified an empty maximum-security prison 150 miles from Chicago to house the remaining 181 detainees. (592 have been released.) That solves the symbolic problem. But then the Administration is still in a legal briar patch wherein approximately 48 detainees could not be convicted in a federal court because they have been tortured and held for years without trial, but the Administration considers them too "dangerous" to be released.
Meanwhile, a 17-year old who took one night of shelter in 2002 in a guesthouse in Faisalabad, Pakistan believed to have been frequented by Abu Zubaydah was captured in a raid and sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was just released to Yemen without charges.
Wonder what his opinion of the United States is.
I'll leave you with Jon Stewart on the Administration's position on civil liberties.
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I'd love to hear from the 60 percent of Americans who think it should stay open: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter. I, too, was twittering yesterday the Post's letting go of Dave Weigel, who is a talented, fair, equanimous reporter and the victim of a conservative campaign against him. He treats his sources fairly and doesn't see the Tea Party (as many liberals do) as some kind of freak show to be mocked. But you don't have to take it from me -- take it from Jonah Goldberg.