Renewed Push, Public Weariness Puts Closing Gitmo Within Obama’s Reach

Renewed Push, Public Weariness Puts Closing Gitmo Within Obama’s Reach

Advocates working to end a sad chapter in American history were given new hope last year when President Barack Obama renewed his push to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The substantive challenges to closing the prison remain, though events have shifted the risk calculus to favor closure. And even though the president is in a far weaker position politically than he was when he took office, different public attitudes on national security issues should make it easier to close Guantanamo. What seemed a hopeless and nearly forgotten project for Obama a year ago—closing Guantanamo by the end of his administration—now seems achievable.

After the latest transfer of one detainee to Algeria last month, 154 detainees remain at Guantanamo. There are three different groups of prisoners among the 154: 76 have been designated for transfer to either their native countries or third countries; 33 are slated for prosecution in either the Guantanamo military commissions or U.S. federal courts; and 45 are to be held in continued U.S. military detention but not charged in any forum.

Congress’ imposition of severe limitations and prohibitions on transferring Guantanamo detainees out of the prison meant that only a handful left between mid-2010 and late last year. But the last few months of 2013 proved to be a turning point. The Obama administration refocused on Guantanamo, and the president appointed senior officials in the State and Defense Departments to oversee the closing of the prison. The momentum carried over into Congress, which voted to lift the most severe restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees overseas—the first time it had ever voted to make it easier to close the prison. The revitalized effort has seen more detainees leave Guantanamo in the four months since December 2013 than in the preceding four years combined. The terrain has changed.

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