I don’t think that any of the approximated 166 current prisoners of Guantanamo Bay will ever leave the prisons.
I don’t think the prisons will close until every inmate dies of “natural causes,” provided the government intends to ever actually close them.
One thing is for certain: the prisons won’t close for at least a year. In January President Obama signed the 2013 version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which, to paraphrase, said that no inmates could be moved off Guantanamo without the authorization of Congress—and that if they were to be moved, it could not be paid for with federal money. So inmates cannot be moved without Congress’ say-so, and there is no way to pay for the movement even if they did say so.
I used to have high hopes for the closing of the prisons. I believed Obama when he said he would close them. Now, I think it boils down to a time-tested fact: as a leader it is easier to disappoint a few people, and be venerated by the majority, than to stand on principle and be hated by the majority (and perhaps be vindicated by history).
Let us say, hypothetically, that the President and Congress have a realization. They wake one morning and realize that the prisons have been the source of inhumane treatment, as well as one of the biggest eye sores of both U.S. and international politics. They close it, and let everyone go. They realize that most of the prisoners have been held under false and cruel pretenses and so no one is tried—they are simply let go.
What would be the repercussions? Regardless of what those prisoners went off to do, the government would face overwhelming disapproval from the American people*. The government would be hated for potentially putting the lives of Americans at risk – however small the risk, and however grand the principle. The Democratic party might not hold Executive office for years, and I suspect that a large part of Congressmen and women would never see the inside of The Capitol again.
The American people may be right in this case. Even if none of the prisoners were terrorists when they went into the prison, some of them might be when they come out. Can you imagine what they had to go through? I would be pissed off as well. If some of those people go to the groups and regions where America is already unpopular, the risk of attack might very well go up. It might be argued that if America were so magnanimous, all those groups and regions would forgive and forget, would put down their weapons. But the animosity towards America goes deeper than Guantanamo—they hate America for historical reasons, as well. This animosity could only be fueled by the new-found hate of some of the prisoners – even if they are just a few.
On the other hand, if the prisons are kept closed the repercussions are relatively few. Sure, people who are plugged into politics and remember Obama’s campaign promises will be angry—but it’s been 4 years and I don’t think the opinion about Obama hasn’t changed drastically regardless of his Guantanamo-failings. And sure, there are still terrorist groups and regions of the world which hate the American government – but like I mentioned before, they wouldn’t be ameliorated by the closing of the prisons, anyway.
Besides which, it is easy to pass the buck on this particular issue. Obama said he signed the NDAA despite his objections about the Guantanamo-clauses because there were simply too many important provisions in the bill to send it back. Which is partially true: the NDAA contains the budget for the U.S. military, which is pretty damn important. However, that the military budget is in the NDAA is not a new thing. It was in 2012, too. Barring drastic change it will be in the NDAA in 2014. So that’s an excuse he can continue to use. Blame Congress. Meanwhile, Congress is so big it can’t be held accountable as a single entity. If you tried to hold each Senator and Representative of Congress responsible for closing Guantanamo he or she merely has to cite the constituency s/he represents, or party loyalty. The buck is passed, once again.
In the end it is easier to torture 166 men in the name of American safety, than to set them free in the name of American liberty.
All the while, all I can think of is that Benjamin Franklin quote:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety