The White House is celebrating some big legacy-building wins this week on the trans-Pacific trade bill in Congress and on Obamacare and same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court.
But on that campaign pledge to close the detention facility in Guantanamo? Uh, well, not yet.
Not that there hasn’t been slow progress toward that end. When Obama took office there were 242 men held there. At the end of 2014, when Cliff Sloan, the last State Department special envoy for closing the prison went back to his law practice, the number was 127 with deals in the works for the transfer a total of 11 Yemenis who were shipped out for Oman and Estonia. Five left in January and six in June. That brought the number in Guantanamo down to 116 detainees.
Even so, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, when CBS News on Tuesday asked whether the prison could be closed before Obama leaves office, said, “I’m not confident, but I am hopeful.”
The problem is “there are people in Guantanamo Bay who cannot and should not be released because they will return to the terrorist fight,” Carter said, and a place has to be found to “detain them in the long term. We have been forbidden [by Congress] to create such a place in U.S. territory.”
Nearly half of those still in Cuba, some 51 detainees, have been cleared for transfer to other countries — if there were any takers and if the administration mounted a determined push to move them. By January, Guantanamo will have been open longer under Obama than under Bush.
But we’re hearing the administration, with 18 months left, may be close to announcing someone to take on the envoy job. Word is the new State Department special envoy for Guantanamo will be Lee S. Wolosky, a former Clinton and Bush II National Security Council director for Transnational Threats and now a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner in New York.