President Obama Is Finally Taking Action on Guantanamo Bay

President Obama Is Finally Taking Action on Guantanamo Bay
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

One of our long national nightmares may finally be coming to an end. 

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the White House is weighing options that would allow President Barack Obama to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Such a move would again see Obama pushing the limits of his executive power; the Wall Street Journal reported that any option would involve challenging a congressional ban on transporting prisoners to America soil.

According to senior administration officials, Obama is intent on fulfilling his 2008 campaign promise to close the controversial facility before his second term is over, NPR reported. Despite previous assurances, including signing an executive order in 2009 to close the prison, Guantanamo Bay remains open with 149 inmates.

Obama has two options. The first, officials say, is to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a ban transporting prisoners to the U.S. outright. This won't affect military spending directly, but it would likely be the more politically explosive move.

The other option would involve signing the NDAA but citing the ban on transporting prisoners as a violation of Obama's presidential power. 

"Presidents of both parties have used such signing statements to clarify their understanding of legislative measures or put Congress on notice that they wouldn't comply with provisions they consider infringements of executive power," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Either way, Obama will likely face criticism: A Gallup poll in June showed that only 29% of Americans support closing Guantanamo Bay and moving its prisoners to U.S. prisons, while 2 in 3 (66%) oppose the idea. 

Source: Gallup

Neither of these options would come into play after the midterm elections, so Obama's fellow Democrats can breathe easy for now.

Why hasn't Obama taken action already? Some blame Obama directly. 

"I — like many people in the human rights community — took the president at his word when he said he would close Guantanamo,"  Andrea Prasow, a counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, told NPR in 2013. "But the fact that not only is it [still] open, but there's no pathway towards its closure and towards ending indefinite detention is one of the great tragedies of Obama's first term."

But Obama also had to deal with politics as usual in the form of congressional gridlock. Congress has been particularly difficult on the issue: In 2010, just six months into Obama's first term, the House and Senate passed the NDAA, which prevented the Department of Defense from using funds to transfer detainees to the U.S. (The move came partly in response to the dministration's efforts to move prisoners to a maximum security facility in Thomson, Illinois.)

Still, Obama keeps returning to the promise he made during his campaign — he again vowed to close the prison during his 2014 State of the Union address: "We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world."

Source: YouTube

He's reaching the end. Obama is approaching the twilight of his presidency, so it's now or never when it comes to closing Guantanamo Bay. He's broken his promises before, but this new threat of executive action heightens the debate considerably.   

Doing so "would ignite a political firestorm," American University law professor Stephen Vladeck told the Wall Street Journal. If the backlash over executive action on immigration was any indication, we've got a rough road ahead. 

Then again, that didn't exactly go anywhere, either.

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Sophie Kleeman

Sophie is a staff writer at Mic covering the intersection of tech and culture. She's based in New York and can be reached at sophie@mic.com.

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