Nestled among a string of improbable victories President Barack Obama racked up in the lame-duck Congressional session is legislation containing the most debilitating setback to date to his plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and send many of its detainees to trials in civilian courts in the U.S.
Language contained in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House and Senate on Wednesday bars the use of Pentagon funds to transfer any Guantanamo prisoner to the U.S. for any reason, including a trial. Some supporters of plan Obama announced on his first full day in office to close the prison said the passage of the legislation signals near-complete capitulation by the president.
“Obama’s original plan is in shambles,” said David Remes, an attorney for 14 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo. “From the outside it appears to be in shambles because he was never sufficiently committed to the success of his own plan and, as a result, Republicans were able to mobilize to turn the issue against him and he provided the Congressional Democrats no leadership.”
For about a year, senior national security officials have struggled with the issue of whether to try alleged September 11 plotters like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military commission or a civilian court—and, if so, where. The new legislation seeks to short-circuit that process by leaving military commissions as the only trial option. Other new requirements in the legislation could slow or stop transfers from Guantanamo to other countries.