It's been more than five months since the Obama administration missed its self-imposed deadline for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. And as things stand now, one key member of Congress says, the White House is showing little to no willingness to continue pursuing one of the more high-minded promises made by the president before entering office.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Armed Services, told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that engagement on the topic by the president and his team has been sparse. So has any type of political push to get Congress to help close Gitmo by appropriating money for an alternate facility in Thomson, Illinois, he added.
"They haven't threatened to veto on that one yet," said the Michigan Democrat. "Maybe they feel strongly enough about closing it that they may take a position on it the way they have on the funding for the [F-35] second engine [which Obama has deemed wasteful]. They have been pretty strong on that issue. But they don't seem to be as strong on Gitmo as they are on that. Don't Ask Don't Tell, they were pretty strong on that issue. But we haven't heard much about the language taking away the money for the prison facility in Illinois."
"They talk a little bit about it but not a lot," Levin added. "Not enough."
The senator, who is a leading proponent of Gitmo's closure, acknowledged (more implicitly than explicitly) that the issue was, for all intents and purposes, off the table -- at least for the noticeable future. It was not the president's fault per se, he said. Though a bit of lobbying on the matter wouldn't hurt. Simply put, the congressional skepticism has been too steep to overcome.
"The majority of my committee voted basically to keep it open indefinitely. Because they took away from the money for the alternative," said Levin. "You can't close it unless you have some other place to take people and put people. I happen to think it should be closed. Our military leaders think it should be closed... I think it is dangerous to America to keep that symbol there. But as long as you have the majority of Congress that oppose closing it, all the Republicans and some Democrats, it won't be easy to close it."
Putting aside who is responsible for Gitmo's continued operation, Levin's words are a coda of sorts on one of the more interesting and revealing chapters in the first years of the Obama White House. The persistent meme when discussion turns to Gitmo is that the president and, specifically, his one-time lawyer Greg Craig failed miserably to read the political landscape when they announced a one-year deadline for its closure upon taking office. Maybe so. But what Levin is noting -- with only a small amount of sugar coating -- is how quickly the administration has dispensed with tough talk on the issue (framing the administration's tepid push of a Don't Ask Don't Tell compromise as more engagement than what it has offered on Guantanamo).
At a briefing last week, in fact, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered a moderately long list of the legislative activities that the president hoped would be pursued once Congress returned from recess. A reporter noticed that Gitmo wasn't on that list.
"Have you put that on the shelf, closing Guantanamo, or where does that stand right now?" he was asked.
"No," said Gibbs, "and in fact I think a report was recently sent to Congress and recently made public of the evaluations that were done of the inmates at the Guantanamo prison. I have not heard any updates on decisions about criminal trials, though -- I have not heard that."