Guantánamo Is Leaving Obama With Choices, Neither of Them Simple

OCT. 31, 2015

The New York Times- As President Obama approaches his final year in power, a political impasse over the Guantánamo prison appears increasingly likely to force him to choose between two politically unsavory options: Invoke executive power to relocate the remaining detainees in defiance of a statute, or allow history to say he never fulfilled his promise to shutter the prison.

While the administration is slowly whittling down the population of those deemed a lower risk — including the transfer Friday of a prominent prisoner, Shaker Aamer, to Britain — its plan also calls for moving at least five dozen higher- level detainees to a prison on domestic soil. But statute bars that move, and the Republican-controlled Congress has shown little interest in revoking it. Mr. Obama vetoed a defense bill on Oct. 22 in part because it kept the restriction.

Mr. Obama has grown more aggressive in invoking executive power to achieve other policy goals. And his administration has been debating for years with whether and when the Constitution empowers him to bypass statutory restrictions on moving wartime detainees, according to internal documents and interviews with current and former officials for a forthcoming book on national security legal policy under Mr. Obama.

Against that backdrop, Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and former Justice Department lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said Mr. Obama was heading toward a dilemma at the end of his term.

“Not closing Gitmo eight years after he pledged to do so would be a failure for his legacy, plus whatever continuing costs it has to national security in his eyes,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “But the only way to close it is to use an extraordinarily aggressive interpretation of executive power to act against the will of Congress and not obviously in a way that the American people support, just as he is walking out the door.”

Read more in The New York Times.