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Friday News Dump Comes Early: Obama Gitmo Policy Collapses

9:55 AM, Sep 25, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Obama is going to keep the prison at Gitmo open at least a little while longer:

With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress....

The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects incarcerated at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge failing to devise a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress.

To address these setbacks, the administration has shifted its leadership team on the issue. White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who initially guided the effort to close the prison and who was an advocate of setting the deadline, is no longer in charge of the project, two senior administration officials said this week.

Craig said Thursday that some of his early assumptions were based on miscalculations, in part because Bush administration officials and senior Republicans in Congress had spoken publicly about closing the facility. "I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives," he said.

You have to read the whole piece to appreciate just how much humble pie the administration is eating on this one. Craig dutifully throws himself under the bus and, per the Post, will be rewarded with a plum diplomatic assignment in the very near future. Meanwhile, the real blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Republicans in Congress, as Craig points out, the Bush administration, the international community, and the American people -- all of whom have let Obama down.

Apparently the Bush administration didn't keep tidy enough files -- they "had been left in disarray." And this made it impossible for the administration to know just what kind of animals were locked up down there before "boldly" setting a one-year deadline to close the facility. One anonymous government lawyer tells the Post ,"The entire civil service counseled him [Craig] not to set a deadline." Craig may have been wrong on this point, too.

The administration also blames the international community for being so uncooperative in the terrorist resettlement program. But then that one is also kind of Craig's fault. "They essentially snuck them in, and we were furious," a senior British official tells the Post in regard to the al Qaeda trained Uighurs now working at a Bermuda golf course. Our allies were inexplicably less cooperative after all that.

And then there's the American people, whose opposition to the administration's plans to for resettling detainees in suburban America oddly spiked as the spring wore on -- and as Dick Cheney pummeled the administration. "Senior adviser David Axelrod and deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer were brought in to craft a more effective message around detainee policy," the Post reports. That happened in May -- no indication of whether it came before or after the decision to send Obama out for a head to head match up with the former vice president. Remember that speech? May 21, 2009, Obama at the National Archives and Dick Cheney at AEI going one after the other? At the time the press couldn't get enough of the mismatch storyline -- the popular new president against the loathed former VP.

The Post's report concludes with this: "In coming weeks, officials say, they expect to complete the initial review of all the files of those held at Guantanamo." They haven't even reviewed all the files yet! Marc Ambinder offers this delightful spin on twitter: "GTMO was messy, but it's gonna close, nearly on time. Obama thinks Craig did yoeman's work on GTMO. If there's a problem, it's not that." Right. Gitmo is going to close real soon -- and at no risk to national security -- just after Obama brings peace to the Middle East, adds 40 million uninsured to the system for not a penny more than you're paying today, talks the North Koreans and Iranians into abandoning the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and wins the war in Afghanistan after tying General McChrystal's hands behind his back.