While his year may have ended on a surprisingly high note, President Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo may be in worse shape than before. As nice as the DADT, START and Zadroga victories may be, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act contains specific language prohibiting the use of Pentagon funds to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to the U.S. for trial or any other reason. The act, passed by the House and Senate on Wednesday, would make debate over where to try alleged terrorist a thing of the past, as military commissions would be the only trial option.
Republicans have been trying to ban the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. for some time, though it is only over the last few weeks that language started appearing in legislation pushed by Democrats. Senator Dick Durbin said it’s a reflection of the lack of support for Obama’s plan to close the military prison. “I supported the president’s position on [the Illinois prison] initially — that issue has been resolved politically, and this bill, the language in it, reflects the political reality,” he told Politico.
Despite the setback, Obama reiterated his desire to close Guantanamo on Wednesday, though he did not address what he plans to do about the legislation that would make this next to impossible. Though unlikely the president could veto the defense act. “I don’t think he’s likely to veto it, though I’d be pleasantly surprised if he did,” said Laura Murphy of the ACLU. “There’s just too much at stake in the bill itself, which goes to the war effort and Defense Department funding.”
While the National Defense Authorization Act would seem to be a setback to Obama, there are some on the left who feel the White House has secretly been rooting for something like this to happen. This was something White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs curtly dismissed on Wednesday. “No. I think we’re going to make a decision on what’s in the best interest of this country and what’s also constitutional,” he said.
Even when things appear to be going his way, Obama finds himself in yet another losing position. Being the president sure is great.