President Obama and his national security team have wanted to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for many years. Congress has stood in the way. But while lawmakers have succeeded in preventing sweeping action, they have not been able to stand in the way of incremental progress.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Obama administration has taken another big step towards its larger goal with another big detainee transfer. The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reported late yesterday:
The Pentagon disclosed Monday that it sent 15 detainees from Guantanamo to the United Arab Emirates this weekend, part of an ongoing, dramatic downsizing that could see the prison population dip to fewer than 50 war prisoners in Cuba by summer’s end.The 12 Yemeni and three Afghan men sent to the Emirates range in age from 36 to 66. Most arrived at Guantanamo when they were in their early 20s a dozen or more years ago. None was ever convicted of a crime although the Bush-era prosecutor briefly swore out charges against two of the Afghans in cases the Obama war crimes prosecutor never pursued.
Updating the tally we’ve been keeping an eye on, the detention facility’s population peaked in 2003 with 680 prisoners. As of today, the Obama administration has reduced that total to just 61 people – the lowest number we’ve seen since the first detainees arrived 14 years ago.
What’s more, we can expect that total to shrink further. The Miami Herald’s report added that 20 of the remaining 61 should leave the prison “soon,” as a result of “resettlement or repatriation through agreements.”
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 Congress’ 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 the White House, military leaders, and Bush/Cheney administration veterans, the hope is that GOP lawmakers will at least care about wasteful spending.
At least, that’s the idea. In practice, congressional Republicans complained anew about yesterday’s announcement.