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Obama and Guantanamo: A chronology of his broken promise

Democrat president Barack Obama signs executive order to close the Guantanamo Detention Facility 1-22-09

Aug. 2, 2007: Sen. Barack Obama makes a simple promise he will often repeat to loud domestic -- and foreign -- applause during his $750 million presidential campaign:

As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.

Jan. 22, 2009: With the official flourish of a newly-inaugurated president and a platoon of retired generals for a living backdrop, as one of his very first official Oval Office acts, Barack Obama signs an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility within one year:

This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard.

Critics warn the complex closure cannot be accomplished by waving a magic wand. They say that other countries once so eager to denounce the Guantanamo prison are unlikely to be equally eager to accept accused terrorists from there. And that finding and rehabbing an alternative mainland incarceration facility for the remaining hardcore prisoners is expensive, duplicative, likely politically unpopular and virtually impossible to accomplish within the promised one year.Guantanamo detention 

July 21, 2009: The White House grants its Guantanamo closing commission an extra six months to study the situation.

Dec. 16, 2009: President Obama signs a presidential memorandum ordering Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Defense secretary Robert Gates to acquire the state prison in Thompson, Illinois as the $350 million replacement for Guantanamo.

Administration officials are forced to acknowledge the obvious, that closing the facility in Cuba will not occur in 2009 but will spill over into 2010, possibly even late 2010.

Jan. 22, 2010: The one year promise anniversary. No closing. No ceremony.

May 19, 2010: The House Armed Services Committee, controlled by members of....

...the president's own Democratic party, absolutely prohibits any opening of a Guantanamo detention replacement facility within these United States. To underline its ban, the powerful committee erupts in an unusual display of bipartisanship: The prohibition vote is unanimous.

June 25, 2010: In a Friday bad news dump guaranteed to attract minimal mid-summer attention, the N.Y. Times exclusively announces and excuses the broken Obama promise by blaming political opposition from unnamed parties (but you can guess which one) and citing the press of more important national priorities anyway:

Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013...

"...the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see,” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat....

Quoting an unidentified "senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking on a sensitive issue," the news organization says, "The president can't just wave a magic wand and say that Gitmo will be closed."

Friday, July 2, 2010: To commemorate the one-week anniversary of the Times' exculpation of Obama's oft-repeated campaign promise, The Ticket publishes a chronology of the Guantanamo detention facility's non-closing.

To be Continued, no doubt.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press; Associated Press.

Comments () | Archives (7)

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Surprise, surprise, surprise. He lied. He is a democrat from Chicago. What did you 52%ers expect.

The Guantanamo promise wasn't a lie in the sense that Bar-bar knowingly said something he knew to be false. It was more along the lines of, "If you elect me president, I will give everyone in America a pony". He may have meant it at the time, but he was too simple minded to realize the size of the task.

The real problem isn't that the guy made a promise he obviously couldn't deliver - it's that 52 percent of the electorate were too dim/naive/star struck to be skeptical.

You missed a few important events.

On February 6, 2009, Obama met with 9/11 and USS Cole family member and, despite media efforts to slant their response as favorable, most came away doubting the President had thought through the closing of Gitmo and prosecuting high-value detainees.

I was in on the June 21, 2009 White House conference call. The only "big" announcement they made to us was a bust for the only news was Military Commissions would be tweeked; it was obvious to all they were creating a fall-back position in case they failed.

On November 18, 2009, five days after AG Eric Holder's announcement KSM and the other four 9/11 conspirators would receive a federal trial in New York City, he was exposed under Senate Judiciary Committee questioning for his having far less than a full grasp of the natioanl security implications. Less than two weeks later, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly made it known he had not been consulted prior to the decision and it would cost the City more than $200 million a year to secure the 9/11 trial. On December 5, a large rally (for a cold, rain Saturday) against the trial there was conducted outside lower Manhattan's federal courthouse during which it was related that former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said it would take 3 to 5 years to conduct the trial in NYC. The entire area was going to be at varying states of security lock-down for that entire time; that news did not sit well with hundreds of thousands of lower Manhattan residents and workers. Meanwhile, America was beginning to learn the national security implications that giving Constitutional rights to the enemy would mean (if tried in federal court).

Unsurprisingly, poll and national poll conducted from November through February showed Americans against, by a wide margin, bringing detainees into the U.S. and trying them in federal court. Pretty soon, every NY politician, from local board member to the governor, who had initially supported the trial being conducted in NYC had changed their minds.

And just last month, both chambers of Congress cut off funding for moving Gitmo's detainees to the U.S. and for modifying Thomson prison to meet DOD standards.

One never knows how political fortunes will turn yet President Obama is likely to see even less support for closing Gitmo and prosecuting the 9/11 conspirators in federal court after Election Day 2010.

Even as President, Mr. Obama still tries to get kickbacks for his home state.

...because obviously, Illinois is the most logical choice to house enemies of the United States.

I'm really quite surprised that there isn't a parallel timeline showing how Obama has blamed Bush because he (Obama) can't close Gitmo.

I mean, weren't we promised Hope and Change? Does that mean he gets to change the past & hope we don't remember?

The only reason so many people claim to have problems with moving Guantanamo detainees to U.S. mainland facilities is so that they can continue to gripe about the President "breaking his promise." If a Republican had suggested such a move, it's almost guaranteed that they'd be on board. Disgusting.

It would be great to see a follow up on this article, a continuation of the "To be Continued, no doubt." 1 year later so much (and so little) has happened. And the saga continues...


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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