News & Politics

White House Won't Say if Obama Can Close Gitmo Without Congressional Consent

(AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)

Will he or won’t he? President Obama’s plan to close the terrorist prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is dead on arrival in Congress. So the question is being asked: Will he try to use his executive powers to close the camp without congressional approval?

Part of the exchange between an exasperated John Karl of ABC News and White House spokesman Josh Earnest:

KARL: On this case, Congress actually has acted, and they’ve acted repeatedly, and they have acted to vote in a bipartisan fashion to say, no, they don’t want detainees from Guantanamo Bay brought to the United States. So, I’m asking you if they don’t act on this, if they don’t approve this plan they’ve just outlined, can the president still close that detention facility before he leaves office–

EARNEST: John, Congress specifically–

KARL: Yes or no, can he still do it?

EARNEST: Congress specifically requested this on this time frame, and we have provided it to them. So, again, they’re going to have to decide whether or not they actually want to take a look at this. What they have done thus far, as you point out, is put in place barriers that have prevented the administration from moving forward in this way. But, by putting those barriers in place, they have led us down the path of a policy that wastes taxpayer dollars and makes the United States of America more vulnerable to terrorist organizations.

KARL: You’re not answering–it’s a really simple question. If those barriers remain in place, can you still close that facility? Yes or no.

EARNEST: Well, the president himself has considered this question, and what he has said publicly is that our focus is going to be working with Congress. And working with Congress requires presenting them a specific plan on the time frame that they asked for. That’s exactly what we’ve done, and we’re now asking for Congress to give it fair consideration. and I’m not going to speculate at this point if congress refuses to do that.

The president has proposed that the remaining prisoners at the facility either be transferred to other countries or sent to maximum security prisons in the U.S. Obama’s problem is that it isn’t only Republicans who are opposing him. Few Democrats are beating the drums to bring terrorists to American communities.

Reaction from GOP candidates was predictable:

“This makes no sense to me,” Rubio told a rally in Las Vegas. “Number one, we are not giving back an important naval base to an anti-American communist dictatorship. Number two we are not going to close Guantanamo. In fact, we shouldn’t be releasing the people that are there now.”

“Not only are we not going to close Guantanamo–when I am president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they are not getting a court hearing in Manhattan,” he continued. “They are not going to be sent to Nevada. They are going to Guantanamo and we are going to find out everything they know.”

Cruz, too, criticized the president’s efforts during an event in Nevada.

“Let me say this Mr. President: don’t shut down Gitmo, expand it and let’s have some new terrorists there,” he said at a rally in Fernley, Nev. “How on earth does any president look in the eyes of a mother or father whose son or daughter lost their lives capturing these terrorists and justify, we’re going to release them again when we know a very high percentage of them are going to return to waging jihad to try to murder innocent Americans?”

Trump, speaking at a rally in Sparks, Nev., insisted that if he’s elected Guantanamo will stay open.

“This morning I watched President Obama talk about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay–which, by the way we are keeping open,” he said. “And we’re going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me. We’re going to load it up.”

There are about 91 terrorists at Guantanamo that no other country will take and that are so dangerous, we can’t let go. And we can’t put them on trial in a civilian court (and perhaps not even a military tribunal) because the evidence was obtained either illegally, as in the case of torture, or through very sensitive and secret means.

There are few people who would release a terrorist of this stripe on a technicality. So unless there is a complete overturning of Congress to liberal Democrats, Guantanamo is likely to remain open for business regardless of who the next president is.