Riding on the waves of hope and change, Obama campaigned in 2008 on a simple idea: that as the world’s leader, America had a responsibility to use its power wisely and responsibly. “Our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example…” he proclaimed on the west front of the Capitol.
Back in 2009, Guantanamo was considered to be Bush’s invention, and Obama was the outsider, looking in. But now, it is Obama’s Guantanamo, and when the history books finish writing their chapter about him, his failure to close the facility—along with his careless use of predator drones—may be the biggest mistake of his presidency.
Given the seemingly insurmountable politics preventing Guantanamo’s closing, what can President Obama do to mitigate the damage in the meantime?
- He can prevent this from happening. If he cannot close the facility itself, he can do every thing in his power to make sure that all proceedings are transparent and recorded. Hidden censors and muted transcripts must end.
- He can move to transfer the 55 people who are already cleared for release. The delay is not because it is hard to find states or countries to take the prisoners; rather, the problem is that the Obama administration has not insisted enough on the transfers. It is a national disgrace for people who have gone through our system to be forced to remain there indefinitely.
- Re-nominate a Gitmo envoy. Two days ago, Obama moved Daniel Fried, the Gitmo envoy, to a sanctions coordinator post without replacing him with anyone.
- He can raise the level of public discourse on Guantanamo. Understandably, Obama’s political capital is currently being spent on domestic reforms such as immigration and gun control. But later, when his lame duck status begins to creep in, he must take the opportunity raise the discourse on Guantanamo to set the path for the next president to finally make some change. Meanwhile, Obama can continue to combat the myth that Zero Dark Thirty’s perpetuated – that is, that torture works.