Carrot and Stick: Obama Suggests Gitmo Closure in Second Term

One of Obama's explicit election promises in 2008 was that he would close America's prison at Guantanamo Bay. In his appearance on Jon Stewart's show Thursday night, now-President Obama announced this was a goal for his second term. 

Commenting on the idea Friday as part of a panel on the Alex Wagner show, Melissa Harris-Perry agreed this was beneficial to selling the idea of a second Obama term. Not explained by Harris-Perry: Why should we expect Obama's second attempt to close Gitmo to be any more effective than his first attempt?

Contrary to the partisan claims made on Wagner's show, the failure to close Gitmo was not simply the result of Republican intransigence. In fact, it's ironic that not closing Gitmo turns out to be one of the few popular, bipartisan acts Congress embraced during Obama's first term.

In January 2009, days after being sworn in, Obama signed an executive order vowing to close Gitmo within one year. But within days of signing the order, Britain refused to take any of the prisoners Obama was hoping to unload. Germany refused a similar request in June. Meanwhile, about 65 percent of the public disagreed with closing the prison.

In June of 2009, Congress weighed in when it sent funding bills to Obama which pointedly did not include money for closing Guantanamo Bay. By October of that year, Congress added language to a Homeland security bill which prohibited the transfer of detainees to American soil. A total of 88 House Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the provision. Despite this, two months later Obama announced plans to move detainees to a prison in Illinois.

By June of 2010 Obama had given up on closing Gitmo entirely. The NY Times noted that "the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantánamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013." 

Adding Gitmo to the President's very short list of clear promises for a second term doesn't sound promising, but this may be exactly what Obama plans to do. On October 2nd, the government announced it would buy a prison in Illinois to which it could transfer Gitmo prisoners. Is this a legitimate attempt to keep a 2008 campaign promise or just a last-minute effort to muddy the waters on Obama's failure to get this done? The fact that this is coming up just weeks before the election suggests the latter.


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