Everything old is new again when it comes to the president's Gitmo plans. With dozens of peopled deemed "medical reinforcements" flooding into Guantánamo Bay prison to try and sustain the 100 inmates currently on hunger strike, President Obama today brought back his old campaign promise to close Gitmo.
As a Senator, Obama said multiple times on his first campaign trail—and beyond—that he would be the president who would shutter the prison on Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, where numerous inmates have been held for over a decade without trial. Today he doubled-down on that rhetoric.
Calling Gitmo "not sustainable," "expensive," and "inefficient" at a White House press conference, the president added that it was hard to justify imprisoning "100 individuals in no man’s land in perpetuity." "All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?" he asked.
Past efforts to repatriate some of the more than 100 Gitmo detainees, or transfer them to American prisons, have been stymied by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. For instance, though 86 Gitmo prisoners have been cleared for transfer or release, they all remain in prison due to Congress' refusal to allow them to return to politically volatile countries (56 of the 86 up for possible release are Yemeni).
Obama should muster the political courage to stand up to Congress on Guantánamo. If his secretary of defense is unable to certify a transfer under the tough provisions, Obama retains the ability to transfer prisoners with a "national security waiver"—a power he has never used.
There is, of course, an extent to Obama's renewed sense of urgency about seriously dealing with the problems at the heart of Gitmo. As the New York Times reports, Obama's choice about what to do with Guantánamo prisoners considered dangerous but not prosecutable as of now "is to move detainees to maximum-security facilities inside the United States and continue holding them without trial as wartime prisoners." In that case, Gitmo would close, but the most insidious parts of Gitmo, the parts that prompted this hunger strike in the first place, would likely continue living on somewhere else.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect that there are now officially 100 inmates on hunger strike.
[Image via AP]