As U.S. President Barack Obama begins his last year of presidency, people are still wondering about his years-old promise to close Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, declared on Sunday that the president will close the notorious prison in the 11 months that remain of his administration.
“He feels an obligation to his successor to close that, and that’s why we’re going to do it,” McDonough said. “Sure we are.”
However, he declined to comment whether President Obama will use his authority to sidestep Congress and shutter the facility.
This isn’t the first time president has made this vow. Since he assumed office in 2009, Obama promised numerous times that the prison on Cuba will close. So far, after seven years, he still has been unable to keep his promise.
June 24, 2007: The then junior Illinois senator, Barack Obama addressed a crowd in Texas about closing Gitmo.
"We're going to close Guantanamo. And we're going to restore habeas corpus," Obama says. "We're going to lead by example — not just by word but by deed. That's our vision for the future."
Jan. 22, 2009: Just two days after he became president, Obama issued three executive orders, one of which required that Guantanamo Bay detainee facility be closed within a year. The president said he was in favor of closing the prison to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism."
However, in November 2009, the president reneged on his promise saying that it was impossible to place a fixed date for closing the facility.
Dec. 15, 2009: President Obama issued an order to the federal government to acquire a prison in Illinois to keep terrorism suspects.
“Not only will this help address the urgent overcrowding problem at our nation’s Federal prisons, but it will also help achieve our goal of closing the detention center at Guantanamo in a timely, secure, and lawful manner,” said the letter, signed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But on May 2010, the House Armed Services Committee shot down this proposal by refusing to bring the detainees into domestic prisons.
For a period of two years since 2011, the president has signed re-authorizations of transfer restriction, prolonging the indefinite imprisonment and at one point, stopping the transfers completely.
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May 23, 2013: Obama again reiterated the promise in a major speech to close down Gitmo.
“Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions.”
Beyond rhetoric, however, he didn’t do much to make the policy succeed. In the same year, the office responsible for closing Guantanamo was closed down itself, resulting in 6 months of inactivity.
Jan. 21, 2014: Obama pledged in his 2014 State of the Union address to revive his efforts to close the infamous prison.
“This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay — because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.”
Jan. 20, 2015: President Obama said, again, during State of the Union speech, that he plans to close down the facility in his final two years in office.
“Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Gitmo in half. Now it is time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close Gitmo.”
July 22, 2015: Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, announced that the administration was nearly finished with the plan of closing down Guantanamo Bay.
“Well, let me confirm for you that the administration is, in fact, in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to present that plan to Congress.”
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There are now 103 detainees remaining in at the prison, down from 242 when Obama started his term. In his address Tuesday night, the president said that it was time to close Guantanamo once and for all.
“As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice so it makes no sense to spend $3 million per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit,” Obama said. “Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Gitmo in half. Now it’s time to finish the job.”
Jan. 12, 2016: Another State of the Union — Obama's last, in fact — and another promise on Guantanamo. Now there is only one year left for Obama to make good on the many promises he started making seven years ago. Will he deliver? Only time will tell.