One of the biggest issues with the Obama Administration is the inability to deal with the legislative branch and the political games dished out by the bureaucracy. Just about every promise made during his presidential campaign has been blocked, altered, or negated in some manner. Closing Guantanamo Bay detention facility (GTMO) in Cuba is no stranger to this. President Obama stands by the use of fair treatment and US courts to either convict and sentence, or free the detainees currently held at GTMO. Congress has consistently argued against the use of US courts and prisons, blocking funds to prosecute and relocate detainees, and to close the camp. The President and the Congress seem to be stuck in a holding pattern.
In 2009, GTMO was supposed to be closed according to President Obama. Blocked by the Senate with the Defense Authorization Bill, this never happened. Obama didn’t put up much of a fight at this point; he simply signed the bill while vocalizing dissent. Instead, he collected and organized all documentation on every single detainee in the facility. In doing so, it became apparent that the documentation was severely lacking and Obama implemented steps to fill in the information gaps. This led to the freeing of many detainees, sent back to the countries in which they maintained citizenship. Obama then calls for the fair prosecution of the remaining detainees, releasing a statement that GTMO would be close in 2010. Again, this date came and went and GTMO remained open. Obama, in an attempt to fight back against Congress, released a Presidential memo closing the facility, only to be blocked this time by the defense attorneys for the detainees. The defense attorneys claimed the detainees would rather stay at GTMO than be transported to an older, less accommodating prison located in Illinois.
In 2011, President Obama signed another Defense Authorization Bill. Again, the Senate forced the Presidents hand by augmenting the defense budget, but caveating the bill with the restriction of funds to close GTMO. This happened again in 2012. In 2014, the restriction of funding to close GTMO and relocate the detainees was once again extended, but President Obama attached a signing statement calling for the relaxing of the funds restrictions. Between 2009 and 2014 the Senate blocked the President at least 5 times.
The President has signed this year’s Defense Authorization Bill. In this bill, Congress has again restricted funds for closing GTMO. It is likely we will see President Obama take a substantially different route than he has in the past. This year, nearing the end of his second term, it is speculated that the President will issue an executive order to close GTMO, attempting to bypass Congress. This will be the only way the President is able to continue defense spending to support the efforts overseas, and make good on his 2008 campaign promise of closing GTMO. Is this what the framers meant to happen when they set up “checks and balances” or is this is a product of vying for power in a zero-sum government?