Guantanamo: No Running Milk and Honey at a Place Obama Can’t Close

Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. military prison for “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on June 25, 2013.

This man has been imprisoned at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since it opened more than a decade ago.

Abdul Malik Wahab al Rahabi is among the 155 inmates still held at an off-shore lockup whose population once swelled to 779 prisoners in former President George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”

He wants out. He and some friends have a plan for life on the outside.

They want to open a “Milk and Honey Farming Cooperative.”

President Barack Obama pledged to make the closing of Guantanamo a first order of business when he entered office. He called for Gitmo’s closing again last night, in his State of the Union address.

Yet the administration has been unable to sort out the fates of a dwindling crew of detainees, a half-dozen facing trial for capital murder charges, the rest held in a variety of categories: those held as indefinite detainees, those eligible for transfer and those who could be released under certain conditions, as Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald has reported.

There is no evidence that this Yemeni, believed to be a body guard for the late Osama bin Laden, committed a crime — yet authorities have considered him “too dangerous to let go,”  Rosenberg, who has long covered Guantanamo, says in an interview aired by National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” today. She and others covered his remote parole hearing this week, a video conference with a board in Arlington, Va.

Mahmoud Abd al Aziz Abd al Mujahid appeared before the board last fall. He was accused of working for al-Qaeda but never charged with a crime. He was recommended for transfer. He is still there, however, because Yemen is considered too unstable to repatriate him.

“With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” Obama said in last night’s address to a joint session of Congress. “We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military actions, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

Notably: Guantanamo earned precisely one word in a 6,778 script.

It was five years ago this month that Obama, who has spoken of the power of his “pen and phone” in his plans for achieving “a year of action” with executive orders this year, signed an executive order to close Guantanamo. Vice President Joe Biden stood at his side at the order-signing, just as Biden sat behind him last night at the Capitol.

The president said he was issuing that order “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.”

He created a task force to provide him with information on the “disposition of some of the detainees” who can’t be sent to other countries. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said options were being developed “in terms of how many we think could be returned to other countries to take them.” A number of prisons had been identified in the U.S., too, though Gates was understating the political mood of local officials and members of Congress in saying that “their enthusiasm is limited.”

The place run as a prison since 2002 has been plagued by hunger strikes lately.

Dozens of detainees have been transferred to home countries or other nations that would take them. Yet Matthew Waxman, chairman of Columbia Law School’s national security program and a former State and Defense Department aid, has said that, given the political obstacles, it is “probably impossible” for Obama to close Guantanamo.

The land of milk and honey will have to wait.

And all of this, of course, makes for great foreign press:






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