President Obama announces a plan — not feasible as we already know — to close the prison in Guantanamo. It is a “declaration of good will” before the historic trip to Cuba.
Closing the Guantanamo Bay prison remains one of the unfulfilled promises of Barack Obama, which he announced in 2009, soon after being sworn in as president. He argued that, first, keeping people in detention without charging them was incompatible with human rights and second, that it was harmful because it antagonizes Muslims worldwide.
But Obama had no idea what to do with several dozen, too-dangerous “enemy fighters.” There is also insufficient evidence to convict them.
Obama inherited 242 detainees from George W. Bush, who created the Guantanamo prison. He managed to send 151 of them to the countries that have agreed to accept them (mainly Arabic countries). There are still 91 prisoners, 10 of whom were sentenced or convicted and another 30 who are meant to be sent all around the world.
That leaves him with about 50 prisoners, with whom he can do nothing. Obama announced yesterday that he would like to move them to the U.S.; military prisons in Kansas and in South Carolina have been considered. The problem is that Congress — dominated by Republicans — forbade bringing Guantanamo prisoners into U.S. territory. Congressmen added a paragraph like that into the defense policy bill in 2010. And nothing suggests that the Republicans will change their minds. Tom Cotton, a Republican senator, recently said, “As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they don’t do that, they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.”
So why did Obama announce an unrealistic plan? It is probably an act of good will before the historic trip to Havana, where the U.S. president is going in a month. It will be the high point of the normalization of relations with Cuba, announced in December 2014, after half a century of hostility and isolation.
The U.S. has been permanently leasing a Cuban territory with an area of over 10,000 hectares (about 24,710 acres) for the ridiculous amount of $4,000 a year. The agreement was extended in 1934 when the government in Havana was dependent on the U.S. Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, have never acknowledged this lease and, therefore, have never accepted the yearly payment.
To give Guantanamo back to Cuba in the future, the prison has to be closed first. Therefore, Obama is taking the first small step toward full reconciliation between the two countries. Or at least, he is showing the Cubans that he wants to take them.