Today’s press conference by President Obama had much in common with his 2008 campaign speeches, dubbing Guantanamo Bay a “recruitment tool for extremists” and a threat to US security, as well as his early 2009 promise to close it within a year.
President Obama closed the conference declaring “it needs to be closed, I’m going to go back at this.” Yet after praising Congress for rejecting his 2009 non-plan (for lacking any specifics), he has closed the only office still involved in even a nominal effort to shutter the site.
The only impetus behind these new comments at all is that at least 100 of the 166 detainees, including many approved for release years ago, are engaged in a concerted effort to starve themselves to death seeing the president’s decision to deny them any access to a real legal system and his refusal to release even those already cleared as a sign that the prison is just going to sit there forever.
Yet violent crackdowns aside, that hunger strike is still very much a thing, and even if it seems that President Obama is 100% comfortable with just punting until the next presidency and blaming Congress, the embarrassing reality may force a rethink.
These strikes began in early February, and medical experts are warning that deaths could start cropping up in the month of May. The Pentagon is hoping to delay that a bit with force-feedings, but that creates yet more ethical concerns and publicity.
It’s the publicity that will ultimately be the key here. President Obama may have little to no interest in the whole “detention without charges” thing, but if detainees start dropping like flies because they’re so desperate they won’t even eat, that’s just embarrassing for a politician with a legacy to cement, and is exactly the sort of thing that could prompt some action.