President Obama has received a fair amount of criticism from the left about the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The president vowed to close the prison, but after five years in office, it remains open.
That’s not for lack of effort. Obama has tried, repeatedly, to pursue the policy that used to enjoy bipartisan support, but Congress – including members of both parties – have placed inflexible restrictions on the administration, preventing progress. In other words, the president hasn’t closed the prison because lawmakers simply won’t let him.
Every time there’s reason to think progress is possible, Congress does what it always does. Adam Serwer reports on today’s developments.
Congress isn’t ready to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, either. Shortly before the vote on [Rep. Adam Schiff’s] proposal, the House voted down an amendments put forth by Washington Democratic Rep. Adam Smith that would have shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and lifted the restrictions on transfers of detainees into U.S. prisons.The White House has threatened to veto the defense bill over the transfer restrictions, but it has backed down from doing so in the past.
Smith reminded his colleagues that the prison, a symbolic scourge around the world, is wildly expensive and entirely unnecessary since the existing federal prison system already houses terrorists.
It didn’t matter – the final vote was 177 to 247. A grand total of six Republicans actually voted with Democrats on this one, which I suppose is a nice silver lining. (23 Dems voted with the GOP majority.)
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being frustrated by the detention facility remaining open, but if you’re blaming the White House, you’re pointing the finger at the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Of course, that wasn’t the only legislative setback this afternoon on the subject of counter-terrorism policy.
Congress isn’t ready to end the war on terror. An amendment to a defense bill, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, that would have sunset in a year the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, passed days after the 9/11 attacks, failed 191-231 Thursday in the Republican-controlled House.The 14-year old law has been used as a legal basis for everything from indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay to drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. Yet the 2001 AUMF was focused on the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. is now engaged in counterterrorism operations against groups that didn’t even exist at that time.
Schiff made the case that allowing the war-without-end resolution from 2001 would offer “time for the administration to consider what authorities are needed to protect the nation. A more narrow authorization constrained in focus and duration may very well be necessary.”
In an under-appreciated development, even the president urged Congress to “to refine, and ultimately repeal” the 13-year-old resolution.
But Republican lawmakers – the “constitutional conservatives” who occasionally raise fears about an out-of-control, imperial presidency hell-bent on expanding dictatorial powers – were unpersuaded and rejected Schiff’s measure.