Commentary Magazine


President Obama Signs Order Resuming Gitmo Trials

This was predictable, considering the comments from Robert Gates and Eric Holder recently, but it still has to be a bit of an embarrassing moment for President Obama. Two years after Obama signed (with much fanfare) an order to shutter Guantanamo Bay detention center, he’s now approved an order to resume military tribunals at the prison:

President Barack Obama approved Monday the resumption of military trials for detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ending a two-year ban.

It was the latest acknowledgement that the detention facility Obama had vowed to shut down within a year of taking office will remain open for some time to come.

In a press release today, Obama said that this new policy will “broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees.”

No doubt. But back in 2009, Obama claimed that “the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” Easy words to say shortly after an election, but if he truly believed them, how could he now justify keeping Guantanamo open?

In a May 2009 speech, the president dismissed the opposition to closing the prison as partisan politics designed to create a “climate of fear”:

Now, as our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult.  These are issues that are fodder for 30-second commercials.  You can almost picture the direct mail pieces that emerge from any vote on this issue — designed to frighten the population.  I get it.  But if we continue to make decisions within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes.  And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future.

In reality, there were serious roadblocks to closing Guantanamo, ones that the administration still hasn’t been able to overcome. It wasn’t Obama’s critics who “refuse[d] to deal with these issues” back in 2009, as he claimed. It was Obama himself who ignored the legitimate problems with his proposal and is now being forced to eat his words two years later.