In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush declared a “War on Terrorism.” This war would result in a long drawn-out conflict in Iraq that would last almost ten years. As a side-effect to this war, there would be numerous enemy combatants and possible sympathizers/activists for terrorist organizations that would be detained. The military needed a place to interrogate and hold them for extended periods of time. The solution came in the form of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The camp was opened in January of 2002. The detention facility is currently a military prison for the United States and is also commonly referred to as “gitmo” and “Guantanamo.” The U.S. has acknowledged holding almost 800 political prisoners since the camp’s operation had began. Since its opening, the facility was declared as inhumane with prisoners going on hunger strikes or being tortured. Many prisoners are held for years without ever being charged for a crime.
CNN reports that as far back as 2007, then-Senator Obama was criticizing the installation. When Senator Barack Obama ran for the Presidency, Obama declared that he was going to close the camp.
“That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists: because living our values doesn’t make us weaker. It makes us safer, and it makes us stronger.” – Obama’s 2009 Address to Congress
As president, Obama has found that a divided congress can make political situations such as Guantanamo difficult to navigate. He signed an executive order on his first day of his presidency, ordering that each of the remaining detainees either be prosecuted or transferred away in the hope that all of the prisoners could be released. Since then, there have been emergent national security threats, as well as congressional roadblocks – due to fears about safety.
Political opposition towards Obama has made it difficult for him to close Guantanamo. Many Republican leaders oppose Obama on this issue because they feel as if it’s an over-reach of his authority and because they feel many of the detainees (even though in many cases there is no proof of their wrong-doing) are dangerous if they are not imprisoned.
Although Guantanamo is still open, there has been progress. There are only 103 prisoners left in Guantanamo Bay with 17 scheduled to be transferred this month. This brings Obama very close to his campaign goal of closing the camp. However, Congress has banned the transfer of detainees within the United States. This has sparked talk of Obama perhaps using executive order to force the closure of the detention facility. In tonight’s State of the Union Address, President Obama is expected to discuss Guantanamo as well as several other issues.
The White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough stated:
“He feels an obligation to the next president. He will fix this so that they don’t have to be confronted with the same set of challenges.”
So what exactly is an executive order? Robert Longley, writer at usgovinfo.info.com says an executive order “is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President of the United States under his statutory or constitutional powers…. In many ways, presidential executive orders are similar to written orders, or instructions issued by the president of a corporation to its department heads or directors.”
The President of The United States has constitutional authority to use an executive order. Executive Orders do not require Congressional approval to take effect but they have the same legal weight as laws passed by Congress. The President’s source of authority to issue Executive Orders can be found in the Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution which grants the President “executive Power.” Section 3 of Article II gives the President the power to implement or execute the laws, to give direction and guidance to Executive Branch agencies and departments and is often done so in the form of Executive Orders.
The White House hasn’t specified a plan about whether or not President Obama will sign an executive order closing Guantanamo Bay. Tonight, President Obama will hopefully discuss it during his State of The Union. The President may finally be close to putting an end to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
If you’d like to watch the State of the Union Address, then click this link to tune in online at 9PM EST.