Time for Obama to Embrace Guantanamo

Brookings Institution, January 21, 2011

It is now two years since Barack Obama promised to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year. It is one year since he missed his self-imposed deadline. And as he has no prospect of fulfilling his promise, it is almost certainly one year before he faces his third anniversary failure.


Faced with a recalcitrant Congress, the inability to bring detainees to the United States for trial, and a security situation in Yemen that does not favor the repatriation of large numbers of that country’s nationals, the administration has so far lapsed into paralysis. Obama continues to mouth his commitment to closing Guantanamo but is unwilling to exercise the powers of the presidency to prevent his policy’s frustration. An endless series of leaks and trial balloons promise policy initiatives that do not materialize. And the administration is left mired in the constraints of law, politics, diplomacy and the president’s own rhetoric.

I have a suggestion for the President: Since he is not going to close Guantanamo, he should embrace it.

I don’t say this lightly. I have never before argued against closing Guantanamo, and to be clear, I don’t oppose doing so now. But if Obama is not prepared to do what it takes to effectuate his preference, he should stop pretending and face the fact that the Guantanamo he is stuck with is not that bad. Indeed, it’s something he could talk about very differently from the way he does.

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