Obama’s election year priority: Closing Guantanamo and possibly returning it to Cuba

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — President Barack Obama promised yet again to fulfill his election pledge in closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo, Cuba.

This time he means it.

With less than a year ticking on the presidential time clock, Obama plans to release some of the 95 remaining combatants to places like Uzbekistan and Sudan while shifting the remainder of up to 60 of the most hardcore terrorists to “supermax” prison facilities in the USA. He may seal a wider deal on the U.S. Navy base on an upcoming landmark visit to Havana in late March.

Obama stated, “For many years it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security, it undermines it.” He added, “It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.”

Closing down Guantanamo will, in the President’s opinion, deprive other extremists a “recruitment tool” and presumably save money; some $450 million it costs to run the facility at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.

GitmoDating from the Spanish/American war and leased from Cuba since 1903, Guantanamo, aka Gitmo, comprises a 45 sq. mile area on the southern coast of Cuba, and remains the U.S. Navy’s oldest overseas base.

How will we save money if we move detainees from an existing and operational U.S. Navy base in Cuba to high profile and likely far more costly venue on the American mainland?

Moreover, shifting the jurisdictional venue may be the real reason as the combatants would be moved from a military facility Not on U.S. soil to a federal prison on American soil and thus open to the legal jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Obama claims Guantanamo is a recruitment tool: in other words, if we move the “worst of the worst” to a supermax prison facility in Florida or Colorado, global opinion will suddenly shift and gleefully exclaim; “See the prisoners are not in military detention but a super-tough federal prison lockup in the USA. We are totally cool with that.”


And somehow I doubt that the thousands of radicalized West European Islamists who have gone to fight in Syria really made the choice to join the global jihad because of Guantanamo.

One third of the terrorists released from Gitmo over the years have returned to the battle against the U.S. and its allies. At its peak in 2003, Guantanamo held 780 enemy combatants, mostly Afghan, Saudi, and Pakistani fighters.

Another nebulous Obama catchphrase, “Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values. It undermines our standing in the world.”

So where to send hardened terrorists? Colorado is on the short list but the state’s Congressional delegation firmly opposes the move. Both U.S. Senators, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet oppose moving these thugs to a federal facility in Colorado.

Sen. Bennet, though supporting closing Guantanamo adds, “These detainees should not be transferred to Colorado.”

Community concerns about where the terrorists would be housed in the USA should be reflected in any transfer plan. Five of the current detainees are suspects in the 9/11 attacks on America.

Obama’s budding diplomatic relationship with the Castro Brothers Cuba has a few elements.

First, formal diplomatic recognition came last summer when Secretary of State John Kerry saw the Stars and Stripes raised at the old U.S. Embassy in Havana which had been closed since 1961.

The second more complex part concerns ending the American economic embargo on Cuba which dates from the Kennedy Administration and was in response to illegally seized American assets. Though loosened by the Obama Administration, the sanctions are still enforced on American firms; yet the embargo is widely flouted by most countries and is the subject of an annual non-binding UN General Assembly resolution calling on the U.S. to lift the economic blockade.

Third is Guantanamo; discussions at the UN between Barack Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro last September dealt not just with the terrorist detention facility but the wider issue of possibly returning the Guantanamo naval base to Cuba.

Republican presidential contender Senator Marco Rubio, (R-FL) himself a Cuban/American has co-sponsored legislation intended to block the U.S. from transferring the Guantanamo Bay base back to communist Cuba.

Despite strong Congressional opposition, not to mention American public opinion, Obama could use yet another Executive Order to bypass Congress and finally close the controversial facility.

A Gitmo giveaway could be in the cards even during a hyper-political presidential election year.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).