White House waffles on Guantanamo Bay closing deadline

September 28, 2009

President Barack Obama is finding out what his predecessor experienced — closing Guantanamo Bay is easier said than done.

As early as May 2006, former President George W. Bush said he wanted to close the prison for terrorism suspects in Cuba that was constructed during his administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. GUANTANAMO/ACTIVITIES

But the Bush administration found it was not easy getting other countries to accept some of the prisoners and faced a dilemma of what to do with other prisoners who could not be released.

When Obama came into office in January, one of his first edicts was to close Guantanamo Bay by January next year. Now that the deadline is four months away, his administration is acknowledging that it will be difficult to meet that goal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under Bush, said on Sunday that it would be tough to meet the January deadline.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was peppered with questions about Guantanamo Bay closing at his media briefing today, but refused to get cornered into saying the deadline would be missed.

Question: Robert, back in June, when you were asked about whether or not the deadline to close down Gitmo could be reached, you said, “absolutely.” Over the weekend, I’m sure you heard the secretary of defense saying that it’s going to be tough. What happened?

NUCEAR-IRAN/MISSILES-USAGibbs: Well, I would believe the secretary. He always trumps me.

Question: I’m sure he does. What happened between the “absolutely” and “it’s going to be tough”?

Gibbs: I think we’re continuing to make progress. I think we’ve had more and more people transferred out of Guantanamo Bay…

Question: So is the White House resigned now, resigned to the fact now that the deadline cannot be met?

Gibbs: Well, we’re not focused on whether or not the deadline will or won’t be met on a particular day. We’re focused on ensuring that the facility is closed and doing all that has to be done between now and the 22nd of January to make the most progress that we can that’s possible.

Doesn’t sound like anyone should bet on the deadline being met…. How important is it that Obama meet his own Jan. 22 deadline for closing Guantanamo Bay? Does it matter if the deadline is not met?  How much more time is reasonable for closing the prison?

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo credit: Reuters/pool (Guantanamo detainee inside open-air yard), Reuters/Jim Young (Gibbs at Monday’s media briefing)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

It was an artificial deadline imposed in order to insure the ball would get rolling. If the deadline is missed big deal, the ultimate goal is simply to close down the prison and it is in the process of shutting down.

Posted by KT | Report as abusive

It was more campaign promises,remember all frothing about the patriot act,all the snooping into our private lives etc,big brother having surveillance everywhere.It was definitely going to be dismantled,guess what?not going to happen instead it,s powers are being extended,were is the ACLU now?

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

It’s only an “artificial” deadline in hindsight. Just like the war in Iraq wasn’t originally about spreading democracy.

We’ve always been at war with Eurasia. Big Brother loves you.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

As said above: it’s all about campaign promises….

Posted by Surfer | Report as abusive

I’m puzzled. Has the administration said where it will park the dangerous illegal combatants that shouldn’t be released? If there are only a few dozen nonreleaseables … out of the couple hundred incarcerated, it will tell us something about the policies under which they were incarcerated.

Posted by Bob Walton | Report as abusive

Of course Obama needs more time.

Logically if Obama is going to close Guantanamo, he needs to set up a new extra-judicial location to shift all the prisoners.

Thus his election promise to close the site down will be completed to the letter. And the Obama-fans will realise they finally got the president they deserve.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive