Obama Wishes He Would Have Closed Guantanamo on Day One

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GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - OCTOBER 28: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by U.S. Military prior to transmission)  A group of detainees kneels during an early morning Islamic prayer in their camp at the U.S. military prison for "enemy combatants" on October 28, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in his first executive order last January to close the infamous prison within a year's time, the government has been struggling to try the accused terrorists and to transfer them out ahead of the deadline. Military officials at the prison point to improved living standards and state of the art medical treatment available to detainees, but the facility's international reputation remains tied to the "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding employed under the Bush administration. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Detainees kneel during an early morning Islamic prayer at Guantanamo.Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

At an event in Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday, President Obama was asked what advice he’d give himself if he could go back to his first day in office. While we would’ve made a crack about never saying “you didn’t build that” or making sure some NSA contractor wasn’t absconding with millions of classified documents, Obama had a heavier answer (which is somewhat surprising, since the question was asked by a seventh grader). “I think I would’ve closed Guantanamo on the first day,” Obama said. “I didn’t because at that time we had a bipartisan agreement that it should be closed.”

Obama did sign an executive order to close the prison within a year during his second day in office, but later his effort to have the detainees transferred to a U.S. prion was blocked by Congress. “The politics of it got tough, and people got scared by the rhetoric around it,” Obama said. “Once that set in, then the path of least resistance was just to leave it open, even though it’s not who we are as a country and it’s used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists.”

Instead we’ve had to just chip away at it, year after year after year, but I think in that first couple of weeks we could’ve done it quicker,” Obama added. Rather than focusing on Guantanamo, he could’ve just told his past self to abandon any hope of bipartisan compromise.