23 Feb One more time all together: Obama wants to close Gitmo
Just a minute ago, President Obama announced yet again his intention and desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. There are no particular surprises here. From what I heard listening to his comments, the plan is merely a renewed push to get Congress to cooperate on closing the prison. Specifically, Obama suggested that the detainees who cannot be released should be transferred to a domestic facility, though he declined to specify which one.
Obama made several points in defense of this plan. He conceded that some members of the public are scared about the possibility of detaining terrorists on US soil, though he noted that we already do that because several terrorists convicted in Article III courts are already housed in federal prisons. Moreover, the federal government has housed them in the US without incident, which demonstrates, according to Obama, that domestic detention is safe.
Furthermore, Obama also tried appealing to fiscal conservatives, noting that the transfers would save the government between $65 milliion to $85 million per year. Over a span of 20 years, that adds up to a $1.7 billion savings. So domestic detention is not only safe, it’s cheaper too.
Obama also announced that although military commissions would remain an option for detainees who are captured on the battlefield in active theaters, for all others, Article III courts are the preferred option for terrorism prosecutions.
There was little discussion of how to clear the political log jam that remains over the fate of Guantanamo, though the President said that he was “clear-eyed” about the challenges of achieving the result he wanted: “The politics of this are tough,” he said, but “this plan deserves a fair hearing.” He noted that even George W. Bush wanted to close the prison.
Of course, one solution, which he did not discuss, would be the use of an executive order to close the Guantanamo facility. I’m very curious to hear readers’ thoughts regarding this possibility. One, I’m interested in predictions about whether he might take such a drastic step in the last months of his presidency. Second, I’m interested in whether it would provoke a miniature constitutional crisis, with Obama using his executive power to close the facility but Congress using its spending power to prevent detainee transfers to domestic soil. What result then?
UPDATE: Transcript of the Background Press Call is here.