September 26th, 2009

Obama and Guantanamo: promises, schmomises (and a case of utter incompetence)

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.]

15 Responses to “Obama and Guantanamo: promises, schmomises (and a case of utter incompetence)”

  1. Oblio Says:

    What a surprising revelation.

    But seriously, this article is worth studying in forensic detail.

    The proximate cause of the article is, Craig is out:

    To address these setbacks, the administration has shifted its leadership team on the issue. White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who initially guided the effort to close the prison and who was an advocate of setting the deadline, is no longer in charge of the project, two senior administration officials said this week.

    So Craig is the fall guy, but he will get another post to keep him on side.

    It looks to me like the story got its start when Craig’s supporters leaked the change to the Post, and now the Administration is trying to control the spin. The readers hear should understand that most media people only know what they are told, and that most stories are placed.

    One administration official was more effusive. “Greg Craig is a hero,” the official said. “He took responsibility for this policy from the beginning, and he has guts and character. If we can’t get it done by the deadline, then at least we’ll have done as much as we can as smoothly as we could have.”

    Why can’t this administration official be named?

    Interesting combination of bureaucratic CYA (“it’s not our fault that none of our plans work as promised”), spin control, and media complicity.

    I predict that none of this will make it on to the editorial page or swim into the ken of the TV pundits.

  2. Aron Sperber Says:

    the problem are not the 200 prisoners that are now in Guantanamo – the problem ist where will the USA keep potential terrorists who are operating international in future when they are neither fitting in US law nor in in international rules (which are only saying what you can not do angaist war-prisoners – but are not giving any answers how to finght international terrorism)

  3. ELC Says:

    I’m sure there’s a great deal of relief that these very Obamanauts are also responsible for dealing with Tehran, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, that relief is felt in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of the Moslem world.

    I’m starting to think it’ll be a small miracle if the world doesn’t get blown up in the next three years, and a big miracle if a good-sized hunk of America doesn’t get blown up.

  4. Occam's Beard Says:

    It becomes clear from the article that the issue was handled by rank amateurs who lacked even rudimentary common sense, much less expertise.

    Now there’s a first for the Obama Administration.

  5. Matthew M Says:

    This administration is going to give affirmative action a bad name. And get people killed.

  6. Richard Aubrey Says:

    You just can’t make this stuff up.
    Combine the total, deliberate ignorance of the actual facts and the sneering scorn directed at the Bush admin and you have more clustercrunches than this.
    I’d like to find out who thought sticking the Uighurs into Bermuda without any consult with the Brits was a good idea. I’d like to shoot him full of sodium pentothal and ask him what he really thought was the up side and what about the downside.
    It’s possible that the dems have so hammered Bush that, by necessity, the Gitmo Goons are innocent. What if the dems actually believed that? It never occurred to me that they actually did. But it looks as if they had.

  7. Occam's Beard Says:

    It’s possible that the dems have so hammered Bush that, by necessity, the Gitmo Goons are innocent.

    I would take this as the epitome of sophomoric reasoning, viz., that the options before one necessarily sum to zero.

  8. davis,br Says:

    It occurs to me that Britain’s release of the Lockerbie bomber may have been a bit of payback for the Ulghurs


  9. Perfected democrat Says:

    Obungler isn’t incompetent, though most Democrats may well be, he is a dedicated radical left-wing closet-moslem revolutionary of the white-collar crime variety, everything he has promoted or accomplished reflects that fact…

  10. Perfected democrat Says:

    “Administration Will Cut Border Patrol Deployed on U.S-Mexico Border” – from

    Obungler (and company) is a deliberate enabler, staying just below the proverbial radar screen where the myopic masses are too busy, too tired, or too shallow to look…

  11. Synova Says:

    Can’t use Georgia or Australia as a penal colony.

    It will have to be Mars. 😉

  12. Thomass Says:

    Aron Sperber Says:

    “USA keep potential terrorists who are operating international in future when they are neither fitting in US law nor in in international rules (which are only saying what you can not do angaist war-prisoners – but are not giving any answers how to finght international terrorism)”

    Gets messy since some of the international community has ratified treaties to give terrorists war prisoner rights and they then assume this is international law for everyone… even though we never ratified it and it does not.

    Our domestic law has a category for these types but even Bush didn’t have the guts to wheel it out. They fit neatly into the categories reserved for pirates… people who could be executed on the spot when captured if they were too dangerous to send home for trial… Otherwise, they could be executed after the trial… If we want to go international law, under our interpretation of international law they fall right into war criminal status…

  13. Artfldgr Says:

    One of the things that make people on the left (who are not fellow travelers), is their belief that there is more power in the US offices than there is (to act directly like a king), and that when things are not done, they are not done because of desire, not ability, or other issues.

    this is a mental thing that is fomented and kept fresh. you can see it all over, but since its all over, you dont see it until pointed out. collect a bunch of interviews with leftists, high up, low down, etc.

    when they talk about other administrations, people, etc. their perception and understanding of circumstances is always simplified to “you just dont want to”.

    and when things dont work out for them its always a paranoid “professor morairty (the conservative behemoth that is invisable – the invisable other capitalism, oppressors), has foiled our plans”.

    this attitude or understanding, or world view, or schema, or whatever you want to call it to understand it, is cultivated because it foments hate out of every situation where something someone wants is not being done and they have little knowlege of the process by which it works. they embody the 60s idea of “we dont want to understand it, we just want to tear it down”,.

    so with the war, they dont want wars, and the war is going on, and any real powerful person, like a president can just say no to it. if they arent, then they must like war and must want war, and enjoy war, and so deserves my utmost contempt and disrespect. (social exclusionary principals – and when they dont walk away, they just get bigger and bigger till you have effigies, etc).

    so if one is raised on all this and has these right attitudes, then one will step up to the plate before one is fully cognizant (which one cant be in such a framework if its believed, not used), and will believe that such things are just will and not method.

    he wills it, and so shall it be…

    its a misalignment of expectations and functional understanding of proccess, with a constant way to look at it, being applied, so as to increase hate or anger and be able to direct it by describing things in certain contexts and ways. ie, they are keyed to things being presented in a certain way that makes it easy for them to become indignant and then angry and know who to direct it at (the designated ones to blame, the oppressors, etc). and once they know who to direct it they call their ire justice, so its ok for them to do it, and not the other way around (as those things are not santified as ok).

  14. Vieux Charles Says:

    From the invasion of Iraq to the detention of al Qaeda, from NSA wiretapping to waterboarding the entire momentum of the leftist (and consequently the democrat party) has been a mandate against the hard actuality of a harsh world. It has been a contest between ideals and reality, adolescence and adulthood, hope and tough choices.

    And what of Barack Obama? Is he as naive as his starry-eyed throng, or has he just been manipulating them all along. Perhaps it is just his unique blend of of dishonesty and incompetence, or maybe he has a unique set of skills that was never meant for an American President; fate missing its mark, mistakenly putting an East African autocrat into a Hawaiian maternity ward.

    Many of the independent voters are coming around. The multitudes of unactualized blacks have no perceived incentive to show up at the polls in 2010. For fourteen more long months pipe dreams and childish fantasy will hold their supermajority over American government. Only then will the country will begin to emerge from its current prepubescent state.

  15. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Perhaps he should just rename Guantanamo Bay. I understand “Neverland” is now available.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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