It wasn't for lack of a good reason that the administration fought so desperately to avoid being pinned down on whether detainee transfers to Yemen would continue. Days before the Christmas Day attack, a "senior administration official" told the New York Times that the White House was "gaining confidence in Yemen’s willingness to handle returning detainees." On Thursday a "senior administration official" told the New York Times the White House had decided to halt the transfers weeks ago. Josh Gerstein described the back and forth spin as "whiplash inducing," only to update his post hours later when John Brennan told CNN the transfers would continue. Yesterday, the White House reversed course again: "We will not be returning detainees to Yemen at this time," Obama told reporters, due to the "unsettled situation" in the country.
Here's the problem: if you can't send them to Yemen, you can't close Gitmo:
President Obama's decision to suspend sending any detainees being held in the Guantánamo Bay detention facility back to Yemen was "politically, a no-brainer," a senior administration official tells NEWSWEEK.
But the move will do more than complicate Obama's commitment to shut down the base: it has raised new questions about whether the facility will be shuttered at all, at least in the first term of Obama's presidency.
"I'm beginning to think that Guantánamo is not ever going to be closed," says John Bellinger, the top State Department lawyer under former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and a persistent advocate of shutting down the facility. Given the current political obstacles, "I would bet some money that it's not going to get closed in the Obama presidency."
"To some extent, I think the administration has blown it," adds Marc Falkoff, a lawyer who represents some of the Yemeni detainees at Gitmo. "It has delayed, and they've gotten themselves into a reactive state and you can't get anything done when you're reacting to political winds . . . It looks like Guantánamo will be around for the foreseeable future."
The only conceivable solution, as Newsweek reports, is to bring the Yemenis to Gitmo North -- which hasn't even been acquired by the federal government yet, let alone brought up to spec to hold the most dangerous terrorists on the planet in the heart of middle America. And that's no solution at all: "Moving more than 100 detainees—the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge—to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed 'Gitmo North' will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantánamo in the first place," Mark Malinkowski tells Newsweek. Oh, and Malinkowski "served as an adviser to the Obama campaign on Guantánamo matters."
The real kicker:
But the final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo.
Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a "supermax" security prison under near-lockdown conditions.
"As far as our clients are concerned, it's probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo," he says.
Not only do they not want to go to Thomson because they will lose their Geneva protections, but they plan on using the court system to prevent their transfer!