The traditional rules say a president whose party struggles in a midterm election is supposed to act a certain way in the aftermath: chastened, meek, and conciliatory, preferably while hanging his head in a way pundits find satisfactory. President Obama just doesn’t seem to care about those rules.
He’s governing on immigration; he’s talking to Iran; he’s striking historic deals with China; he’s taking the lead on net neutrality; and he’s even quietly reducing the population of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
A Saudi citizen who has spent the past 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay has been released, the Pentagon said Saturday, amid a push to whittle down the prison population at the U.S. base in Cuba.Muhammad al-Zahrani was sent to his homeland based on the conclusion of a U.S. government board that has been re-evaluating the need to continue holding some of the men as prisoners, the Pentagon said in a statement. He will take part in a Saudi program to rehabilitate militants…. The board cleared him for release in October, citing a number of factors including his willingness to participate in the Saudi rehabilitation program. He left Guantanamo on Friday.
As Carol Rosenberg reported, Muhammad al-Zahrani had been categorized as a “forever prisoner,” held at the prison for a dozen years without ever being charged with a crime.
Republicans, not surprisingly, aren’t happy – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon called the administration’s policy “dangerous and, frankly, reckless” – but the White House is moving forward anyway.
Indeed, Zahrani’s departure came on the heels of a U.S. decision to send five other Guantanamo detainees to Europe – three to Georgia and two to Slovakia – with more on the way. Rosenberg’s reporting added, “More transfers are in the pipeline, including another six captives who can’t go home to Middle East trouble spots and are approved to go to Uruguay, perhaps in December.”
According to the Associated Press’ tally over the weekend, 13 prisoners have left Guantanamo Bay this year – seven in the last two weeks – leaving 142 men at the facility. Roughly half of them have already been cleared for release.
All of this seems especially relevant today.
It’s unlikely that any one factor forced Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s ouster, but Guantanamo seems to have contributed to his problems within the administration. We learned in May that Hagel was “under pressure from within the Obama administration to step up his pace in approving the transfer of low-level Guantánamo Bay detainees.”
At one point, National Security Adviser Susan Rice “sent a three-page memo to Mr. Hagel requiring him to ‘provide an update on progress on detainee transfers every two weeks until further notice.’”
This continued to be a problem within the administration throughout the year.
The sudden activity at Guantanamo was apparently a hint that Hagel’s tenure would not last much longer.