Just last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) complained that he’s still waiting for a formal Obama administration plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. In May, the Republican senator, who’s occasionally expressed lukewarm support for closing the detention facility, reportedly met with President Obama about the issue, and McCain says he told the president, “Okay, give me a plan. Give me a plan, okay?’
The senator added last week, “I have not heard a word since.”
This was familiar rhetoric from McCain, though I’ve never been entirely clear on what kind of “plan” he’s looking for. The plan seems to involve (1) transferring the prisoners; followed by (2) closing the prison.
But it turns out, there’s a little more to it than that, and a more detailed blueprint is nearly complete. Time reported this afternoon:
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday confirmed that a plan to “safely and responsibly close” the prison at Guantanamo Bay is currently being drafted by members of the Administration. Earnest said closing the prison is in the national security interest of the United States.
“The administration is, in fact, in the final stages of drafting a plan” to close the prison, Earnest told reporters. “It is a priority of the president. He believes it’s in our national security interest to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”
The timing of the remarks matters. The New York Times reported this morning that the administration’s “fitful effort to shut down the prison is collapsing again,” in part the result of ongoing Pentagon resistance.
Ashton B. Carter, in his first six months as defense secretary, has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees. His delay, which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel, is generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department, officials say.Last week, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, convened a cabinet-level “principals committee” meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months. At that meeting, Mr. Carter was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers, according to several officials familiar with the internal deliberations.But the meeting ended inconclusively. Mr. Carter did not commit to making a decision on pending transfer proposals by a particular date, including the repatriation of a Mauritanian and a Moroccan. Nor was it clear whether he accepted the 30-day deadline, those officials said.
For those involved in the debate, the article raised eyebrows, and no doubt prompted the White House to make clear that the administration hasn’t given up on its goal. On the contrary, a new, presumably detailed plan is nearly ready.
Of course, congressional Republicans have a “plan” of their own – doing everything possible to keep that controversial prison open indefinitely, regardless of the national security implications, and no matter what U.S. military leaders recommend. If the White House strategy requires lawmakers’ approval in any way, it will no doubt fail.
That said, there has been a fair amount of progress on the issue, resistance from Capitol Hill notwithstanding. From January to October of last year, just six detainees were transferred from the prison. There have been sporadic bursts of activity since, reducing Guantanamo’s population to 116 detainees, down from its peak of 680 prisoners in 2003.