The White House is signaling that any day now it will release a new plan for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Thursday not to expect any major plot twists when its long awaited review is released. So what to expect?
A few possibilities exist – so here is a quick rundown on President Barack Obama’s options.
Obama could present a plan for closing the prison by releasing the prisoners who have long been cleared for release, and ask lawmakers to move the others to a Super Max or military prison in the US. Congress just passed a bill that bans the US from spending any money to transport the prisoners stateside. It would seem highly unlikely that they will suddenly see the same plan and change their minds.
He could give a plan to Congress, wait a bit, and when it fails to act give a big speech and say: “Hey, I tried.” Then he could act on his own using executive authority to move the prisoners regardless of what Congress says. There are lawyers who argue under the constitution the president has the power to decide the fate of prisoners of war. That would end up in the courts. The US courts move slowly and it’s not at all clear that a final decision will be reached in the time Obama has left in office.
He could say the war is over in Afghanistan and these are prisoners of war and, therefore, they have to be released under existing conventions and treaties. This is unlikely because then he would have to release everybody, and he’s made clear he will not do that.
We do know that – after months of saying it is working on a plan – the Obama administration is going to try again to fulfil the promise the president made from his first days in office and close the prison.
Obama always makes the argument that this is a national security issue. He says the prison is a recruiting tool for ISIL and al-Qaeda. Even if he gets his way and the prison closes and even if he is able to find countries to take in all cleared prisoners, the propaganda is unlikely to stop. Obama says there are a few dozen who will never be released. They are either too dangerous or the information that was gathered about them was done through torture.
The president isn’t trying to change their fate, just their location.