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Detainees pray at the the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Getty Images)

Obama Guantanamo Retreat: Maybe Embarrassing But Politically Neutral

Mar 8, 2011

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Frank James

President Obama's announcement Monday of a resumption of military trials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, a failure of his campaign pledge to close the site, likely won't hurt him politically.

That's not to say that is isn't something of an embarrassment for a president who as a candidate made a grand pledge to close the facility but in governing has found it impossible to pull off. (NPR's Mara Liasson had a Morning Edition report on the administration's latest move.)

The president's Gitmo failings might matter politically if he were facing a credible primary challenge from the left. But there's no sign of such a threat.

More importantly, the most important issues for voters remain the economy and jobs. The battle against terrorism, of which Gitmo is a subsidiary issue, while still important, lags behind the economy.

Meanwhile, for liberals unhappy with the president's decision to go ahead with new military tribunals at Gitmo, he has a few arguments to try and placate them. And he's using them.

Among those arguments: he's still committed to closing Gitmo but, short of being able to do so for political reasons, he's putting in place new procedures to bring the detentions closer to the norms of U.S. constitutional values and the Geneva Conventions.

There's evidence that this approach is working. Over at the liberal DailyKos, poster Armando gave qualified approval of the new policy:

I think the procedure described is adequate and while the order expressly recognizes habeas corpus rights and the continuation of the procedure for transferred detainees (to avoid appearances of forum shopping), it has two major failings imo. First, it does not provide for a direct court review of the determinations of the created board. I think it should. Instead it relies on habeas corpus petitions for the review. I think that is the wrong approach. The second problem I have is that it does not set a procedure for non-Gitmo detainees (think Bagram.) It should...

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer wryly saw Obama's move as vindication of the previous administration:

No one has done more to revive the reputation of Bush-era antiterror policies than the Obama Administration. In its latest policy reversal, yesterday Mr. Obama said the U.S. would resume the military tribunals for Guantanamo terrorists that he unilaterally suspended two years ago, and he may even begin referring new charges to military commissions within days or weeks.

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