During the last few hours of President Obama’s second and final term, the POTUS spent precious moments drafting a letter to members of Congress, imploring them for the last time to close detention center Guantanamo Bay.
President Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay is a dark mark on his record, having been one of his chiefest campaign promises. But his inability to achieve the goal was not because of lack of effort.
Obama first began speaking about his goal to close the detention facility during the Democratic primary in 2007. Then-Senator Obama said that having the camp open is in direct betrayal and opposition to the values America stands for.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama made this declaration:
“To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend — because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists — because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.”
The culture of the political world at the time indicated that Republicans and Democrats might be able to come together to support this goal, but with the increased divisiveness of the next few years, it became clear that Republicans were unwilling to compromise on anything, least of which a goal that would make them seem soft on terrorism.
More than anything else, Obama’s commitment to closing Guantanamo was a way of distancing the presidency and the nation from the legacy of the Bush-Cheney presidency. Looking back now, Obama has succeeded in that goal, despite forging his own legacy for conquest and global human rights violations.
Though Obama’s opponents on this issue were mostly Republican, the first blow to his plan to close the detention center was given by a fellow Democrat.
“In May 2009, Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey stripped $80 million that Obama had requested to close the prison from an emergency funding bill. ‘While I don’t mind defending a concrete program, I’m not much interested in wasting my energy defending a theoretical program,’ Obey said at the time. ‘So when they have a plan, they’re welcome to come back and talk to us about it.’“
Despite his inability to close the detention facility as promised, President Obama has come a long way in drastically reducing the number of inmates at Guantanamo. Currently, just 45 inmates remain at the facility in Cuba, down from 242 when Obama took office.
In reaching out to Congress to implore for the closing of Guantanamo Bay one final time, Obama is proving once again that his efforts to close the detention center were in earnest.
In his last full day in office, Obama sends letter to House speaker, Senate president pro-tem urging them to close Gitmo pic.twitter.com/DC7wsl58eA
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) January 19, 2017