President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined his long-awaited plan to close the Guantánamo Bay military detention center in Cuba, but rights groups immediately condemned the proposal as a series of "talking points" rather than any real effort to end the indefinite detention of prisoners and restore justice.
"The infamy of Guantánamo has never been just its location, but rather its immoral and illegal regime of indefinite detention," said the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents a number of Guantánamo detainees. "Closing Guantánamo in any meaningful sense means putting an end to that practice."
During a press briefing, the president outlined the steps that the Pentagon will take to shutter the infamous offshore facility where dozens of alleged terror suspects have been subject to torture, and languished for over a decade without charge or trial. Currently, 91 detainees are still held at the facility.
The plan (pdf) includes transferring abroad the 35 detainees already approved for release, accelerating periodic reviews, reforming the military commissions process, and working with Congress to determine a "secure location" at a maximum security prison within the United States to relocate the remaining prisoners.
"We are dealing with a current group of detainees," which—because of the "manner in which they were originally apprehended"— are particularly "complex," Obama said during Tuesday's press briefing, alluding to the notorious torture and rendition of post-9/11 terrorism suspects.
"We are closing a chapter in our history and reflecting on the lessons learned about 9/11...to guide our nation going forward," Obama stated.
The president—who, during the 2008 election, campaigned on a promise to close Guantánamo—said that 15 years after 9/11, "we are still having to defend a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks."
Keeping Guantánamo open, he said, is "counter-productive in our fight against terrorists," drains military resources, harms partnerships with foreign allies, and "undermines our standing in the world."
"This plan demonstrates what the Guantánamo prisoners have always been: not dangerous men, but the ultimate pawns in the power games of others."
—Aisha Maniar, London Guantánamo Campaign
"I don't want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is," he added. However, Obama acknowledged that his plan, which requires substantial Congressional support, faces a "fair amount of opposition" from Republican lawmakers.
Given that, critics of the plan argue that the steps laid out do very little to effectively "close Guantánamo."
"Without ending arbitrary indefinite detention, there is no end to the 'misguided experiment' that is Guantánamo Bay," said Aisha Maniar, organizer of the London Guantánamo Campaign, citing the president's own remarks on the prison.
"Instead," Maniar continued, "Barack Obama has offered Congress a politically expedient plan that will help to protect his historic legacy as a president who tried. Coming at a key point in this year’s presidential campaign, and anticipating 'a fair amount of opposition in Congress,' the plan offers politicians on both sides a talking point to appear tough on terrorism and national security issues, while eschewing real threats."
"The plan offers no viable solution to ending what Guantánamo represents, any more than it offers either freedom or justice for remaining prisoners," Maniar added. "This plan demonstrates what the Guantánamo prisoners have always been: not dangerous men, but the ultimate pawns in the power games of others."
The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a similar critique of the plan, which it describes as "several obvious steps" that the organization "has long called for, and that the Obama administration has long reneged on."
"But talk is cheap," the statement continues: "Unless the Obama administration shows real will and dramatically steps up its efforts...men whose detentions the administration itself has determined are unnecessary, who have already been imprisoned for 14 years, will continue to languish long after President Obama has left the White House. This is senseless and cruel."
The group is calling for the 35 detainees to be transferred "without delay," and demanding that the 33 men still waiting for periodic review are "reviewed in time to have an actual chance at being transferred this year."
"Meanwhile," CCR continues, "the centerpiece of the plan—moving those detainees who have not been and will never be charged with any crime to a prison in the U.S.—does not 'close Guantánamo,' it merely relocates it to a new ZIP Code."
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, conceded that Obama deserves "praise for trying to make good on his promise," but noted that the decision to "preserve the Bush-created military commissions is a mistake." Ultimately, Romero said, "the president’s continuing embrace of indefinite detention without charge or trial will tarnish his legacy."