In the heady afterglow of Obama’s inauguration, I accepted a bet from Ann Althouse . She bet that the president, in the end, would not fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo within a year, by next January. Testing my hope that Obama could be counted on, I bet that he’d come through. Now I’d say Ann is looking more prescient than I am.
How is Obama going to close Guantanamo in eight months when his lawyers just asked for a four-month extension (the second one) in the legal proceedings against the detainees? It’s hard to square the promise with the developing facts. Nor is it a happy sign that the president is decorating Bush’s military tribunals with more detainee rights rather than swearing them off in favor of federal court. As a New York Times editorial argued on Sunday, tribunals have a place, but it’s for trying prisoners of war captured on the battlefield, not anyone we picked up after 9/11 who we don’t know what to do with, which describes the detainees.
Congress refused to give Obama the $80 billion he asked for to relocate the Gitmo detainees because he has laid out no plan for which of them are going where. It’s time to make that plan. Try as few of the detainees as possible in the Bush-Obama tribunals and get the rest either into the federal criminal system or on a plane home, like the Supreme Court litigant Lakhdar Boumediene, who flew to France last week. When you set your own deadline, it matters much more that you meet it. No one forced Obama to promise, by executive order, to close Guantanamo by next January. But he did, and he got a lot of mileage out of it. Don’t blow past this one, Mr. President.