Only 61 detainees remain in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp now that 15 have been transferred to the United Arab Emirates. After the single largest transfer out of the camp by President Obama, the chief executive appears dead-set on closing the prison before he leaves office, a goal with an arbitrary, or perhaps legacy-focused, deadline.
Obama's campaign pledge to close the prison was foolish. It is one of many promises made before he had to deal with the realities of governing.
And that reality continues to slap the president in the face. He sent Congress a plan earlier this year that would have transferred many prisoners to other countries under security agreements and transferred the rest to a prison in the United States. The plan was dead on arrival in Congress, partially due to public opposition. In a February CNN poll, 56 percent of the public said Gitmo should stay open. That's up from 47 percent who said the same when Obama took office in January 2009.
Their push to bring detainees to America sparked a backlash, for people who don't want terrorists in their backyards. In April 2009, the administration had to abandon plans to transfer two detainees to northern Virginia because it hadn't consulted the district's congressman, Rep. Frank Wolf. Soon after, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to block transfers from Gitmo to the mainland and denied Obama the $80 million he wanted appropriated to close the prison. So Obama has his own high-handedness and disdain for lawmakers to blame for the fact that one of his signature policies remains unfulfilled.
Obama wants to shift blame, and threatens to veto bills that would fund the Department of Defense over prohibitions on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the mainland, a provision that has become routine in those funding bills.
His opposition to the prison seems to be about geography. He proposes to simply move the prisoners to America, where they will be treated just as they are now. In either location, the prisoners who aren't transferred to foreign countries are likely to be held indefinitely without trial.
Some of the hundreds of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were innocent, such as Fouad al-Rabiah. Rabiah arrived in Guantanamo in 2002 after being arrested doing charitable work in Afghanistan. Many detainees claimed the same, but Rabiah actually had a history of aid work. Under torture, he was forced to confess to crimes he could not possibly have committed. He wasn't released until 2009 after a judge said "the court does not accept confessions that even the government's own interrogators did not believe."
The rule of law still matters. The closure of Guantanamo Bay would do nothing to reinforce it, and perhaps would make matters worse, if it simply means transferring dozens of detainees who will be held on U.S. soil indefinitely without trial. If Obama is interested in justice, he should drop his meaningless geographic promise, and seek instead to prosecute the detainees he believes cannot be released.