Back during the campaign, Obama was fond of saying things like this during speeches, to thunderous applause, “Last point, Guantanamo. That’s easy. Close down Guantanamo.”
Like so many things Obama thought in his pre-election arrogance, it hasn’t turned out quite that simple after all. As Byron York wrote back in May:
Now, things have changed. Obama has issued an executive order that Guantanamo will be shut down no later than Jan 22, 2010. He has tried to charm and persuade our allies to accept some prisoners—and has gotten virtually nowhere. He still hasn’t settled on which procedures will be used to dispose of the cases involving the most hardened al Qaeda detainees. And now, the Senate has voted—by a 90-to-6 margin—to deny Obama the $80 million he sought to pay for closing down Guantanamo.
That’s quite a vote of no-confidence coming even from his own party.
But the WaPo now reports on some of the shocking details of how the Obama administration went against advice by insisting on giving a closing date for the prison before it had devised any sort of plan on how this might be accomplished.
It becomes clear from the article that the issue was handled by rank amateurs who lacked even rudimentary common sense, much less expertise. In addition to Obama himself, the main actor seems to have been White House counsel Greg Craig, a lawyer who seems to have lacked a basic understanding of the issues that would need to be resolved before a Guantanomo closing could be effected, such as:
To empty the prison, the administration will need to find facilities to house 50 to 60 prisoners who cannot be released and who cannot be tried because of legal impediments, according to an administration official. The administration must also win congressional funding for the closure process, find host countries for detainees cleared for release, and transfer dozens of inmates to federal and military courts for prosecution.
To assume that doing all of this would be easy or quick was always absurd. But it was especially arrogant considering that Craig was explicitly warned early on about the problems by a bipartisan group:
Before the election, Craig met privately with a group of top national security lawyers who had served in Democratic and Republican administrations to discuss Guantanamo Bay. During the transition, he met with members of the outgoing administration, some of whom warned him against issuing a deadline to close the facility without first finding alternative locations for the prisoners.
But as so often seems to be the case with the Obama administration, Craig and his boss fell victim to a toxic brew of hubris, ignorance, impatience, and the overriding need to negate anything George Bush had done. Another now-familiar element of the mix was an almost uncanny ability to deeply offend allies:
After the congressional setbacks, Craig orchestrated the release of four of the Uighurs, flying with them and a State Department official from Guantanamo Bay to Bermuda, a self-governing British territory whose international relations are administered by Britain.
The transfer produced a diplomatic rift. British and U.S. officials said the Obama administration gave Britain two hours’ notice that the Uighurs were being sent to Bermuda. “They essentially snuck them in, and we were furious,” said a senior British official.
The move also caused friction between Britain and China, which seeks the Uighurs for waging an insurgency against the Chinese government.
Much more of this and Europe will be yearning for a return of that stupid cowboy, George Bush.
[NOTE: It occurs to me that Britain’s release of the Lockerbie bomber may have been a bit of payback for the Ulghurs.]