This photo made during an escorted visit and reviewed by the US military, shows the razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned "Camp X-Ray" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 9, 2014.
Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty

On his last day, Obama shrinks Guantanamo population to new low

The Rachel Maddow Show, 8/15/16, 9:27 PM ET

More detainees transferred from Guantanamo

Rachel Maddow reports the breaking news that 15 detainees are being transferred from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, leaving 61 prisoners remaining in the facility.
Rachel Maddow reports the breaking news that 15 detainees are being transferred from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, leaving 61 prisoners remaining in the facility.
Congress made it effectively impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but lawmakers couldn’t stop the outgoing president from coming close to his goal.
The Obama administration’s long and fitful effort to wind down the Guantánamo Bay wartime prison came to a close on Thursday with an announcement that it had transferred four more men out of the detention complex. Their departures are expected to be the last before President Obama leaves office on Friday.

The transfer of the four detainees means that President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has called for an end to such transfers, will inherit the fates of 41 men there, 31 of whom are being held without charges or trial.
“As president, I have tried to close Guantánamo,” Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders yesterday. “When I inherited this challenge, it was widely recognized that the facility – which many around the world continue to condemn – needed to close. Unfortunately, what had previously been bipartisan support for closure suddenly became a partisan issue. Despite those politics, we have made progress.”

That’s quantitatively true. Updating the tally we’ve been keeping an eye on, the detention facility’s population peaked in 2003 with 680 prisoners. The Bush/Cheney administration began moving detainees out in its second term, and by the time President Obama took office, the population was down to 242 prisoners.

Now, as Obama exits the stage, the total is down to 41. Two weeks ago, Donald Trump, who’s never demonstrated any real understanding of this issue, declared, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo.” Fortunately, the current president ignored him.

As we discussed in April, the point of the gradual reductions, obviously, is to reduce the overall population, but it’s also intended to appeal to Republicans’ sense of fiscal sanity: the smaller the number of detainees, the harder it is to justify the massive expense of keeping open a detention facility that houses so few people. Even if congressional Republicans are inclined to ignore every other consideration, the hope is that GOP lawmakers will at least care about wasteful spending.

At least, that is, if the Guantanamo prisoner population remains low. There’s a real possibility that the incoming president will reverse the progress and start adding to the detainee totals.

About a year ago, Trump told supporters, “This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”

He didn’t say who he’d “load it up” with, exactly, but Americans should prepare for the possibility that the progress we’ve seen of late may soon be reversed.