Obama has gotten a relatively free pass as president, no doubt due to the intrigue of being the first black president. Congressional investigations into his administration go nowhere. The liberal media minimizes any wrongdoing by the administration and finds a way to spin it against Republicans instead. But something unusual has started happening. Influential figures on the left are speaking up loudly and attacking Obama over his policies regarding the U.S. military and defense. Obama is accused of being worse than former President George W. Bush due to the way he is continuing to detain Guantanamo inmates.
Obama originally said when he ran for office that he would close the Guantanamo Bay prison, and after being elected in 2009, publicly instructed the military to shut it down within one year. It is now over four years later, into his second term, and the prison is still open. Most of the prisoners have been there for over 11 years without a trial. Nine have died since it opened in 2002. The scrutiny has intensified in recent months as a majority of the 166 inmates, down from a high of 684 in 2003, have gone on hunger strikes, and at least 21 of the men are being force-fed twice daily. The administration has approved 86 detainees for release, but curiously none have been released so far this year.
Obama recently closed the office of the Special Envoy to the Closure of Guantánamo, evidence that it is becoming even less likely that it will be shut down. Polls reveal that a whopping 70 percent of Americans approve of Obama keeping the Guantanamo Bay prison open, giving Obama less incentive to shut it down. Many of the detainees are from Yemen, and cannot be released there, because the administration imposed a ban on transfers to Yemen in 2009 after the Underwear Bomber attack.
This has left the administration stuck in limbo, or, as one left-wing critic describes it, "Obama's Guantanamo is never going to close, so everyone might as well get comfortable." Will the detainees ever receive trials? Obama has had little success transferring the detainees to federal court to be tried, which would pacify his critics on the left. Even his own party, led by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Democrats, voted to block funding to close Guantanamo. On the other hand, Obama's has been reluctant to try the detainees using military tribunals, since the outcry on the left – and internationally – would become deafening.
The backlash from the left started building in 2009, when Obama announced he was going to employ a policy of "prolonged detention," that would allow indefinite imprisonment. The imprisonment would be based on the government finding the detainee generally dangerous, not for proven crimes or past violations of law. Liberal commentator Rachel Maddow, usually a cheerleader for Obama, described it as, "a radical new claim of presidential power that is not afforded by the Constitution and that has never been attempted in U.S. history, not even by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney." She noted that Obama criticized George W. Bush for using an "ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism," yet Obama's approach is the same thing. She compared it to the movie Minority Report, where people are arrested for crimes they may commit in the future. "So you...construct a whole new system outside the courts, even outside the military commissions, so you can indefinitely imprison people without charges, and you'll build it all from scratch," Maddow said on her TV show, full of incredulity that Obama was taking this even beyond the military commissions of President Bush.
Obama continues to claim that he intends to close Guantanamo. At the same time, he contradicts himself by saying it is a "lingering problem that is not going to get better," adding that it would "get worse" and would "fester." He is covering for himself, talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one side, he says he intends to close it; on the other side, he makes excuses as for why it hasn't been closed in over four years since he took office. Obama is trying to please both the 70 percent of Americans who agree with keeping Guantanamo open and the far left, but the far left is finally seeing through him.
The list of complaints the left has with Obama has grown pretty long. The Obama the Conservative website lists 29 areas they accuse Obama of capitulating on. A significant number of them relating to Guantanamo.
The liberal mainstream media is still covering for Obama. Peter Jan Honisberg, Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project, laments that "rarely does the U.S. media call" him. Instead, international media contacts call him frequently. No other country, even countries like England that have no Bill of Rights, permit indefinite detention.
George H.W. Bush ran for president on a platform that included "Read my lips, no new taxes." He lost reelection when he failed to keep his promise. Obama failed on his election promise of closing Guantanamo, yet was reelected due to the deliberate silence of the liberal mainstream media to call him out on it. Whether Obama weathers the growing opposition coming from the left or not may depend on whether the liberal mainstream media finally turns on him. Journalist Noah Rothman of Mediaite thinks it's finally starting. He wrote earlier this month, "What is clear from the last 24 hours of reporting on left-leaning news outlets, Obama's supporters in the media no longer trust him."
There may be a way out for Obama. The far left organization Human Rights Watch has indicated they are pleased with attempts being made to make the military tribunals more like federal courts. If Obama can fool the right into thinking the detainees are still getting tough trials in the military tribunals, and pacify the left that the tribunals have changed enough, he may resolve the contentiousness over Guantanamo for awhile. But eventually it will catch up with him; if the detainees are given the panoply of rights that American citizens are provided in federal court, their massive front of international lawyers may be able to plead their way out of punishment – especially considering the detainees were never Mirandized. Then how likely is it that one or more of the freed detainees will launch a terrorist attack on the United States?