Remember President Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo Bay? He made that promise way back when – during the first week of his first term – and he’s repeated it numerous times since.
On January 22, 2009, the president signed an executive order to close the infamous detention center in Cuba, saying the United States must “observe the core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard.”
But there’s a very simple reason for his failure to make good on this more than four years later: Closing the base would require Congress to overturn a number of laws restricting prisoner transfer, and Republicans have refused to do so.
In May 2013, Obama hinted he would take steps to close the prison on his own. And this week, he appears to have taken the first step, tipping his hand to a new strategy that may allow him to bypass Congress: He simply won’t fund the prison, which currently holds 166 prisoners, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Pentagon has rejected a request by the military for $196 million in funding for badly needed renovations at the camp, according to The New York Times. The decision not to grant the funding was made over the summer, but emerged Tuesday.
Col. Greg Julian of the Army, a spokesman for Southern Command, told The Times the funding was rejected “because of a lack of congressional support to use the overseas contingency funding that we sought to complete those projects. So now we are working on various measures to mitigate some of the conditions of the facilities.”
The request included $99 million for new guard barracks and nearly $50 million for the camp that is used to hold “high-value” detainees, who were previously held by the CIA. The Times also reported that Gen. John F. Kelly, SOUTHCOM chief, wanted to consolidate communication facilities so guards would not have to move detainees often.
In March, Kelly told Congress the repairs were necessary if the base remains open.
“These are things that we have to do right now,” Kelly testified last spring. “I’m assuming Guantánamo will be closed someday, but if we look into the past 11 years, it was supposed to be temporary. Who knows where it’s going? We’ve got to take care of our troops.”
As the debates over Obamacare and food stamps show, one of the most effective ways to kill a program is to starve it of funding. DOD’s decision not to invest in the maintenance required to keep GITMO up and running over the long-term could provide the basis for an argument that the camp is outdated and should be closed.
If this were Obama’s strategy, Republicans in Congress would be none too happy about it. Keeping the base open has been a priority for them for more than a decade. But if funding cuts for the base continue, the president has found a way to get around Congress again.