During an appearance this week in Cleveland, President Obama addressed what he's learned since he became president, and what he'd change. His answer: “I think I would’ve closed Guantanamo on the first day.” Instead of thinking about the would, the president might want to instead consider the could. Could Obama have closed Gitmo? Realistically, there are some big challenges that would have put a stop to that.
During a recent interview with Playboy, former Vice President Dick Cheney explained why Gitmo still exists:
It’s still open today. It’s still there for a reason. You’ve still got a couple hundred really bad guys, terrorists, who you need to have someplace you can keep them.
The reason is simple, but it's one of the biggest problems. Where would all of the detainees go? Returning detainees to their home turf is problematic. Many nations are politically unstable and face domestic unrest — not the ideal environment for rehabilitation. Of the remaining 122 Gitmo detainees, two-thirds originate from Yemen. Prior to the January coup in Yemen, the U.S. was vying to return Yemeni Gitmo detainees to their homeland. But Obama administration officials were still concerned about the influence of Al Qaeda within Yemen, and the ability for detainees to rehabilitate into society. Yemen was supposed to have built a center to help them, but didn't.
OK, so what other options exist? Basically, the U.S. Department of Defense is looking for third party countries to volunteer to take remaining Gitmo prisoners. Terror suspects have now been transferred to Oman and Estonia. A spokesperson for the Defense Department explained why Gitmo tranfers can be hard to facilitate:
If we do not receive adequate security and humane treatment assurances, the transfer does not occur.
But even if a country can be found, other serious concerns remain:
The decision to transfer a detainee is made only after detailed, specific conversations with the receiving country about the potential threat a detainee may pose after transfer and the measures the receiving country will take in order to sufficiently mitigate that threat.
All of these things take time. Logistically, a host country must volunteer, and that could take a while — there isn't exactly a wait list. We can't forget about all of the security concerns pertaining to a release, either. Not to mention all of the political ruck roll that would occur on U.S. shores if the facility closed. Regardless of whether Obama thinks he should have closed Guantanamo Bay on day one, practically, it just wouldn't have been possible.
Image: Getty Images (1)