Less than two weeks ago, President Obama restated his 2008 campaign promise regarding the closure of the military-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Amidst a plethora of media attention and debate the president came out and argued that the indefinite detentions with little prospect of charges or a trial flout the rule of law and that terrorists have used the naval detention center as a recruiting tool.
On Monday however, House Republicans attempted to undo the president’s plan to close the facility by barring the U.S. government from transferring the prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay to prisons within the U.S. or any other country.
The final bill, which is likely to contain provisions related to other policy matters, also will effectively prohibit the Defense Department from spending any money to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house terror suspects from Guantanamo. The restriction would apply from the bill's enactment through 2014.
The president has also cited financial reasons that render the Guantanamo detention facility inefficient. He said that Guantanamo makes no sense in a time of deficit-driven budget cuts as the United States spends $150 million each year on 166 prisoners – almost $1 million per prisoner. However, relocating the prisoners will also prove to be a substantial burden for the administration.
The Obama administration has been exploring an option to transfer the prisoners to a detention facility in Yemen. Approximately 100 of the 166 prisoners currently being held at the Guantanamo bay facility are from Yemen. Republicans have criticized the government for not having an efficient and effective contingency plan to relocate the prisoners and making substantial plans to house prisoners that would be arrested in the future.
The bill is likely to reflect the wishes of the Republicans who dominate the House of Representatives. Both the Senate and the House will vote on the bill this summer. A fair bit of negotiation and contestation will likely result when the Democratic-run Senate produces its version of the bill.
While relocating the prisoners and making arrangements to house future detainees will take some thorough and detailed planning by the Obama administration, at this point in time, it seems in the interest of the reputation of the U.S. to make such arrangements promptly. With the recent flurry of criticism and protests against U.S. drone attacks, taking prompt action on another similarly contentious issue can go a long way to redeem the Obama administration’s reputation among humanitarian organizations and other similar entities.
As the president said himself: “I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future — 10 years from now, or 20 years from now — when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?”