President Obama Sides With His Guantanamo Bay Protesters

100 men have been starving themselves in Guantanamo Bay to get the attention of the American people. Yesterday they finally got the President's support.

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Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

For months now, men have been starving themselves in Guantanamo Bay to get the attention of the American people. And for weeks these men, prisoners of the War on Terror, many of whom have been cleared for release, have had the attention of the White House, which is filled with officials, including the President, who sympathize with the prisoners’ plight.

“It’s not sustainable,” President Obama said Tuesday, breaking his silence about the protest against his own government. “I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity.”

Obama repeated a position he has long held: The detention facility needs to be closed, with the prisoners either transferred to third countries if they do not present a threat or to the United States for adjudication. “This is a lingering, you know, problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.”

(PHOTOS: The Portraits of Gitmo Detainees)

The detention center at Guantanamo Bay now operates with the dizzying logic of a Franz Kafka novel. By administration policy, no new prisoners arrive, 166 remain. Because of political disputes in Washington, no prisoners have been allowed to leave recently, even though 86 have been cleared for release. Congress has blocked their transfer to the United States, for trial or incarceration, and conditioned their release to third countries on a certification from the Secretary of Defense about the security of those transfers, which has not been forthcoming. In addition, the administration has a voluntary hold on any transfers to Yemen, the likely destination for more than 50 of the detainees destined for release.

In the meantime, Obama and the military have approved the force feeding of the prisoners who are refusing to eat, raising the objections of the American Medical Association, which has long argued that the force feeding of mentally competent prisoners is unethical. As of Tuesday, 100 are officially participating in the hunger strike, with 21 now being force-fed a nutritional supplement through tubes inserted in their noses, according to the New York Times. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” Obama said.

(PHOTOS: Inside Guantanamo)

So what will happen next? Even before the press conference Tuesday, the National Security staff had begun considering options for changing the legal limbo status of Guantanamo. While the Supreme Court struck in 2008 that the prisoners have habeas corpus protection, the courts have increasingly rejected habeas petitions. Some of the inmates have now been held without trial for 11 years. “We’re going to examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue, but ultimately we’re also going to need some help from Congress,” Obama said.

In response to Obama’s announcement, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard “Buck” McKeon said Obama needed to develop a comprehensive detainee policy before the base could be closed. “The president faces bipartisan opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay’s detention center because he has offered no alternative plan regarding the detainees there, nor a plan for future terrorist captures,” he said. Obama’s plan in 2009, which asked for $80 million to transfer the detainees to U.S. prisons, was rejected by the Senate 90 to 6. Last November the Senate voted 54 to 41 to prohibit the Department of Defense from transferring the detainees.

But the political calculus could begin to shift in the coming months, on the back of an unlikely alignment of voices concerning a most unusual detention facility. The President of the United States is siding with the prisoners starving themselves to protest his government.

With reporting by Alex Rogers

MORE: President Obama At Press Conference: In Charge, But Not In Control

78 comments
valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

I heard that it costs $900,000 per year to house 1 prisoner in GITMO.........dead.....they are not worth a plugged nickel .....after shooting at our troops.......why don't we save ourselves some money by.......

valentine, comedian.....lol......dark humor

Jeff Brandt
Jeff Brandt

Obama's right....let's leave Gitmo and forget to bring them to the states...we'll check on their status in a few years when they've starved to death. Who cares about those terrorists? They can rot on that island for all I care.

fitty_three
fitty_three

Here we go again with the GOP dochotomy:

He's either a dictator or an incompetent do-nothing.

He can't be both, GOPers, so I ask again:

Which was first, your ideology or your crazy?

jmac
jmac

David Cole:   " . . . Congress has barred Obama from transferring any detainees to the United States, not even to stand trial in a criminal court, and has put onerous conditions on their being transferred to any other country. These measures have effectively frozen in place one of the most counterproductive aspects of our national security policy . . . "

Obama sides with our Constitution, our treaties, our soul.    Congress - not so much.  


curt3rd
curt3rd

Guantanamo Bay is still open?  I thought that Obama closed it on his first day in office........ in 2008.

poliphobic
poliphobic

The picture shows your stars & stripes proudly displayed above your very own concentration camp. 

Says it all.

Ravensford
Ravensford

Does the U.S. Congress have the authority to keep people in prison who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime? This is not a rhetorical question, I would really like an answer. If President Obama simply let people not charged with a crime loose, what could someone who disapproves of that action do about it. Of course you don't want people simply wondering around outside the military base at Guantanamo with no visible means of support. Transferring them to the U.S. and providing them with necessities might be problematic but since when has imprisonment been a legal alternative for dealing with people who have nowhere else to go? Again, this is not a rhetorical question,

mandrews445
mandrews445

Considering a bomber was running loose, I was glad law enforcement and the national guard took every extreme measure to catch him. Yes, some people lost money and it was a hassle one people's personal life. But at least that guy felt the pressure and, in the end, self destructed because he sensed there was no where to hide or escape the grid. Frankly, I don't think he would have been caught if not for this stint of Marshall law and intense military involvement.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> "President Obama Sides With His Guantanamo Bay Protesters"

Yeah, no way that can (and will) be taken out of context. Given that Obama both expressed a desire to close the facility and proposed a plan (that McKeon is apparently ignorant of) for doing so prior to the hunger strike, it's a particularly dumb and prejudicial statement you're making, Scherer.

> The detention center at Guantanamo Bay now operates with the dizzying logic of a Franz Kafka novel.

No, the current status is another chapter in that novel. There are others that occurred prior to now.

George B. Murr
George B. Murr

Austin Jones -- you need to learn the fundamental basics of due process and what it means to have the rule of law. Those in state prisons were accorded due process. Those held without due process have not. There is no one above or below the law. No one.

Adria Lewis
Adria Lewis

How about we deal with a larger and more unsustainable issue... like food stamps and SS??

Carlos Perez
Carlos Perez

Close this place and send them to prisons of their countries, no more tax payers money.

David Lautz
David Lautz

Just strap a bomb on them and send them back to their home mosque...

Austin Jones
Austin Jones

Its a plan to get these bad guys onto American soil, plain and simple.

Vh Hurtado
Vh Hurtado

The Fed had gone around to states with spare prison capacity and asked if the inmates can be incarcerated there and each state said no.

Ricardo Rivera
Ricardo Rivera

Question that needs to be answered is what we are going to do with these detainees if and when the prison is closed. President want's it closed that’s not a secret especially for those who continue with the he broke his promise nonsense ignoring that he doesn't control this congress. I don’t care if we send these men to another prison and allow them to go through the military courts other than that the prison is a symbol that out grew its need...

Austin Jones
Austin Jones

There are hundreds maybe thousands more non-violent drug offenders who've never hurt a soul fighting for their lives in state prisons everyday. We should care more about them than these dirtbag terrorists.

destor23
destor23

The problem with this entire article is summed up in the sum up line: "The President of the United States is siding with the prisoners starving themselves to protest his government."

The prisoners are not protesting "Obama's government."  They are not even specifically protesting the executive branch of the current government.  They are protesting an 11 year old system put in place over the course of two administrations with involvement from both the judicial and legislative branches.  There's no irony here.  The sadder truth is that the entire U.S. government cannot be organized to undo such an obvious human rights violation.

This kind of glib analysis isn't helping us solve that problem though, to be fair, I have no idea what would.  

amazed108
amazed108

Wait I thought President Obama was going to close Gitmo as soon as he was elected.  If I remember right he said that before his first term.  It wasn't I will close it if Congress lets me.  It wasn't I will close it if the sun sets in the east.  He said I will close Gitmo.  Now you are telling me it is still open for business?  How is this possible?  How about another executive order?  He seems to be able to use them to do almost anything he wants such as ignoring immigration laws.  Why not this?

roknsteve
roknsteve

People living in a cardboard box in Gomerville, Texas have more rights and freedom than the detainees in Gitmo. 

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@jmac  Obama also sides with our actual national security interests, unlike demagogues like Lindsay Graham. Just thought I'd mention that.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@curt3rd

He had to keep the economy from collapsing first.

You should be thanking him for that, because, in fact, we do have one.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@Ravensford

As I remember, there was a discussion back during the Bush years with the end conclusion that incarcerating terrorists on our own shores might accord them rights they wouldn't have otherwise.

Arimathean
Arimathean

@Ravensford As I understand it (and I am not a Constitutional lawyer), the treatment of the detainees as enemy military combatants and their detention overseas (rather than on domestic soil) is the legal loophole that deprives them of any Constitutional rights.  I, too, am interested in hearing if that actually IS legal.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@grape_crush I am actually surprised this thread isn't already swarmed by complete loonies because of that title.  I kind of think that was the point.  Maybe I am being too cynical towards MS, I dunno.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@grape_crush"No, the current status is another chapter in that novel."

The President (and the public) has been force fed by Republicans and the Beltway press for quite a while now. Unfortunately, it's with pre-digested bull feed, rather a nutritional mixture.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Oh, and the NYT article is much more evenhanded than this post by Scherer, such as:

"But there is no indication that Mr. Obama’s proposal to close the prison, as he vowed to do upon taking office in 2009 after criticizing it during the presidential campaign, has become any more popular. Mr. Obama remarked that “it’s a hard case to make” because 'it’s easy to demagogue the issue.'”

The plan for Guantánamo he proposed — moving any remaining prisoners to a Supermax-style prison in Illinois — was blocked by Congress, which barred any further transfers of detainees onto domestic soil. A spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and one of the leading opponents of closing the prison, said on Tuesday that 'there is wide, bipartisan opposition in Congress to the president’s goal of moving those terrorists to American cities and towns.'”

Arimathean
Arimathean

@destor23 I think you are being unnecessarily antagonistic towards Scherer.  I think kudos go to any journalists who keep this egregious human rights violation at the forefront.  Scherer is doing more than you or me, frankly, to end this (unless, unbeknownst to me, you are assembling a militia to storm Gitmo).

SuperMatt
SuperMatt

@amazed108 The US is not a dictatorship.  Congress blocked him from doing it.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@amazed108 

The Senate explicitly refused to permit him to do so by a vote of 90-6 and a later vote of 54-41.  Executive Orders have limits in their scope of power and amongst those limits are not being able to override Congress when they tell you to go F yourself.  He actually did sign an executive order on day 1 but was unable to execute it because of those votes

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@amazed108Section. 7.All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

You might want to check your clothing. Your ignorance is showing.


outsider
outsider

@fitty_three @curt3rd  

Not to mention the fact that the article actually states why he wasn't able to close it. 

Pretty funny - you can write, but apparently reading is difficult for you. 

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

The administration has put a hold on sending any current detainees to Yemen, which is where nearly 2/3 of them would go if released.  Blame whomever you like, but that part of the mess is his own making.

Granted I don't really disagree with him.  At this point the only real solution is to try the ones not cleared for release and send those convicted to a U.S. prison somewhere.  But Congress (including many Democrats) doesn't want them in their home states.  So what then - Alcatraz?

tommyudo
tommyudo

@TyPollard @grape_crush 


It's Scherer, the poor man's Joe Klein. What do you expect?  He's learned the MSM rules of engagement at Joe's knee. Mikey is bucking to be Press Secretary in the next Rand Paul administration.

amazed108
amazed108

@forgottenlord @amazed108 I was trying to be facetious but apparently that got lost.  I know he signed the order to close it, my point was that he made a campaign promise to close it when he should have know he couldn't do it on his own.  That didn't stop him from saying that he would close it though.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Wasnt the Senate and the House controlled by the Democrats in 2008?

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Recognize sarcasm when you hear it.  The point is, Obama made a statement he couldn't back up, a hallmark of his.  He likewise boxed himself in with his Syria "red line" talk, which wasn't even in the context of a campaign promise - he just wanted to sound tough and is now stuck.  The rise of the oceans was also supposed to slow and the sick be healed.  Obamacare was supposed to provide a higher standard of care to millions of additional people and actually cost less.  Now he bangs the table about closing Guantanamo but has his own policies in place that make this impossible.  The man should just stop talking.

amazed108
amazed108

@PaulDirks @amazed108 Did you reply to the wrong post?  Not sure what your comment has to do with mine, so maybe my ignorance is showing as I said nothing about raising revenue.  Was that what you meant to say?  It is amazing that when you make a comment that liberals disagree with that they have no argument (like You) but just reply with insults.  Hope I haven't insulted you. 

fitty_three
fitty_three

@outsider2011

It's not that they can't read it's that they try to rewrite history even before it's completely forgotten.  They should at least have the courtesy of waiting maybe 20 years to pass before trying!

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@bryanfred1"Blame whomever you like, but that part of the mess is his own making."

Practically every country in the Middle East has been a clusterf#ck (in one way or another) probably since before you were born, due to the meddling of oil-addicted industrial nations, and every president, congress, premier, parliament and pundit along the way owns a piece of them. That includes the "mess" that is the current Yemen.


PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@Arimathean @destor23 You think your joking. Do you realize how many people the Boston bombers would have taken out if they'd just situated at one end of the block and fired down the length of the course? 

Arimathean
Arimathean

@destor23 @Arimathean No worries.  With the NRA on your side, the safest thing you can be is armed to the teeth.  Heck, if AQ resurfaced and wanted to attack us again, all they'd need to do is ditch the suicide bombers, get NRA memberships, and start hoarding assault rifles.

fitty_three
fitty_three

A second point:

You're implicating the GOP in his lack of success in closing Gitmo.

Good move.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@bryanfred1 

What's wrong with going to the American people on issues?  You have a problem with that?

You didn't happen to notice that the first thing on the agenda was the rapid fire approval of measures to keep the economy from collapsing?

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@bryanfred1 In case it's escaped you, it currently takes 60 Senate votes to pass anything. Throw in a few Blue dogs and your fantasies about Obama being able to push anything through Congress are revealed to be exactly the willful deceit you intend. 

You're not fooling anyone.


bryanfred1
bryanfred1

What on earth are you talking about?  Republicans didn't take control of the House until the 2010 elections - sworn in early 2011.  Regardless, Obama campaigned on "day one."  So even if it HAD been just a few weeks, he apparently neglected to follow through the day he stepped into office.  It's not like his inauguration was a surprise - the bill could have been drafted in Congress and ready for his signature.  Yet here we are.

fitty_three
fitty_three

During the Obama administration, it was a few weeks.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@curt3rd

During the bush years, who had the veto pen, curt3rd.

You spend way too much time trying to obfuscate.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@curt3rd

...for three weeks.

Fixed it, curt3rd.  You have a habit of leaving stuff out.

curt3rd
curt3rd

The funny thing is that the Democrats controlled both Senate and the House.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@amazed108

I doubt he believed it was impossible because I doubt he expected 90 votes against him.  If it were 60 votes, he could've done something about it, found a way to appease them or twist enough arms to get to the number he needed.  However, at 90 votes when your own party holds a supermajority, you don't have a prayer.  Plus, he really didn't expect the kind of opposition he did to his health care plan.

jsfox
jsfox

@amazed108 @forgottenlord I am not sure what he said has to do with it. I am going to close Gitmo I think was a the correct statement and when he said there were many many in Congress who felt it should be close including his opponent. I am sure he did not expect Congress to all of a sudden wet it's collective pants on thought of moving the detainees in side our borders. 

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@amazed108

Obama signed an executive order but to transfer the prisoners, he needed funding approval by Congress.  Congress refused it.