President Barack Obama was eloquent Tuesday in describing why the situation at the Guantanamo Bay prison is “unsustainable.” He was justified in blaming Congress for frustrating his effort to close the facility. But he was disingenuous in failing to acknowledge that his own actions — or his own inaction — have substantially contributed to an impasse that has prompted more than half of Guantanamo’s inmates to undertake a hunger strike.
One hundred and sixty-six terrorism suspects remain at Guantanamo, of whom 86 have been cleared for transfer to their home nations. After overseeing more than 70 repatriations or other prisoner transfers during the first years of his administration, Obama suspended those to Yemen after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner in 2010; in 2011 and 2012 he signed defense bills imposing all-but-unmeetable conditions on any other transfers.
This year, Congress granted the Defense Department waiver authority that could have allowed transfers to resume, but the administration has not followed through. Instead, the State Department reassigned the senior ambassador who had been seeking to arrange repatriations.
Moreover, the Pentagon has failed to set up a promised new system for reviewing the cases of prisoners that Obama ordered established more than a year ago — which means that Guantanamo inmates are receiving less review of their cases than they did during the Bush administration. It’s little wonder that many have grown desperate enough to try starving themselves to death.
What is needed above all is genuine political commitment from Obama. Having vowed to close Guantanamo, he backed away from the project in the face of political resistance. That resistance may be, as he argued this week, unreasonable; but it won’t be overcome if the president doesn’t make it a priority.
The Washington Post (May 1)