Campaign Promises

Departments -> Homeland Security -> Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility

ItemHomeland Security
Guantanamo Bay Detention FacilityGrade
HS-15 The Promise: "As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "The War We Need to Win," dated 07/31/07
Status:In an attempt to deliver on this promise, Obama signed an Executive Order on 01/22/09 ordering that the Guantanamo facility be closed within a year. A few months later on 05/19/09, Senate Democrats rejected Obama's request for $80 million in funding for this promised closure. The main sticking point: absence of a detailed plan on where to send the detainees. In the words of Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States."

Despite the Senate leader's position at the time, the House voted on 10/15/09 to allow select foreign terrorism suspects from the Guantanamo Bay prison into the United States to face trial. Likewise, the Senate voted 79 to 19 on 10/20/09 in favor of transferring terrorist suspects to the United States for trial.

On 11/17/09, the Senate voted in favor of using defense spending bill funds to build or modify prisons in the United States to hold detainees from Guantanamo Bay. An underused facility in Thomson, Illinois was being considered to house about 100 of the Guantanamo detainees.

President Obama acknowledged on 11/18/09 that while progress was being made on this promise, he would not be able to keep it by 01/22/10.

The FY2011 Defense Authorization Bill imposed restrictions on U.S. action on Guantanamo detainees, including provisions that made it difficult for the Obama Administration to resettle or repatriate detainees abroad.

Further, President Obama formally capitulated on this promise on 03/07/11 by issuing a written statement to the effect that military commission trials would resume at Guantanamo, ending the ban he imposed the day he was inaugurated for his first term in office.

As of end-CY2016, 41 individuals remained incarcerated at the Guantanamo Detention Facility. Since it opened in 01/02, a total of 779 individuals have been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay as of end-CY2016.

This promise was not fulfilled.
HS-16 The Promise: "Obama strongly supports bipartisan efforts to restore habeas rights. He firmly believes that those who pose a danger to this country should be swiftly tried and brought to justice, but those who do not should have sufficient due process to ensure that we are not wrongfully denying them their liberty."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "The War We Need to Win," dated 07/31/07
Status:Habeas Corpus is a writ (court order) which directs law enforcement officials who have custody of a prisoner to appear in court with that prisoner to help a judge determine whether the prisoner is lawfully in prison or jail. It is a protection against illegal confinement when due process has been denied as could be the case with some Guantanamo detainees.

Under U.S. Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush of CY2008, it was established that Guantanamo detainees have a right to habeas corpus and are able to bring their petitions to U.S courts. It was also ruled that Guantanamo detainees are entitled to the legal protections of the U.S. Constitution and that the Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo would be inadequate.

Of the 41 prisoners held at Guantanamo as of endCY2016, 21 had lost their habeas corpus petitions challenging their detention.

Under the Obama Administration, 32 detainees were held for indefinite detention without charge or trial. President Obama's toleration of the continued imprisonment without charges of these 32 individuals, some of whom were reportedly not involved in military operations, runs counter to his promise to reverse the wrongful imprisonments he repeatedly blamed on the Bush Administration during his first campaign for the presidency.

This promise was not fulfilled.
HS-17 The Promise: "...will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "The War We Need to Win," dated 07/31/07.
Status:Military commissions are courts established by military commanders to try persons accused of crimes allegedly committed during war. These commissions may also try persons accused of committing ordinary crimes during periods of martial law or military occupation, when regular civil courts are either nonexistent or unable to function. The first military commissions were established by a military order issued by President Bush on 11/13/01.

On President Obama's first Inauguration Day, 01/21/09, federal prosecutors were directed to file a motion seeking to suspend legal proceedings against detainees at Guantanamo. One day later, he signed Executive Order (EO) 13492 entitled "Closure Of Guantanamo Detention Facilities." That EO stated in part "...that all proceedings of such military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered, and all proceedings pending in the United States Court of Military Commission Review, are halted."

Undeterred by the above EO, the House passed a bill (HR 2647) on 10/09/09 that created the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2009. That bill, an integral part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 1391) (P.L. 111-84) was signed into law by President Obama on 10/28/09. It limited the use of hearsay or coerced evidence, provided greater access to witnesses and evidence, but still denied Guantanamo detainees due process required by the U.S. Constitution and Geneva Conventions. While that law was an improvement over the MCA of 2006 (H.R. 6166), it contained no outright rejection of the provisions of that Act. In fact, Section 948b(f) under Chapter 47A specifically states that "no alien unprivileged enemy belligerent subject to trial by military commission under this chapter may invoke the Geneva Conventions as a basis for a private right of action." The term "unprivileged enemy belligerent" was defined in the Act as an individual who "(A) has engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; (B) has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or (C) is a member of Al Qaeda." A "privileged belligerent," on the other hand, is defined as an individual belonging to one of the eight categories of prisoners listed in Article 4 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

On President Obama's watch, seven (7) prisoners at Guantanamo were tried and convicted by military commissions between CY2009 and CY2014. As of end-CY2016, three (3) of the convicted prisoners remained at Guantanamo and the trial of seven (7) additional prisoners by military commissions was ongoing. Among those: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who allegedly masterminded the 9/11/01 attacks on the USA and four of his co-conspirators, as well as Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri who allegedly organized the attack on the USS Cole in CY2000.

This promise was not fulfilled.
HS-18 The Promise: "He will develop a fair and thorough process based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to distinguish between those prisoners who should be prosecuted for their crimes, those who can't be prosecuted but who can be held in a manner consistent with the laws of war, and those who should be released or transferred to their home countries."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "The War We Need To Win" dated 07/31/07.
Status:On 05/22/09, President Obama addressed the nation and discussed a plan dividing Guantanamo prisoners into five categories:
1. Those who have violated American criminal laws are to be tried in U.S. federal courts.
2. Those who violated laws of war are to be tried under the Military Commission system.
3. Those who have been released by the courts.
4. Those who can be transferred safely to another country.
5. Those who cannot be prosecuted but pose a clear danger to the American people and who may be held indefinitely.

Except for #1 above, there are no provisions of the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice that are directly applicable to items #2 thru #5.

The Military Commissions Act of 2009, an integral part of the National Defense Authoration Act of 2010 signed into law by President Obama on 10/28/09, still denied Guantanamo detainees the due process required by the U.S. Constitution and Geneva Conventions. As of end-CY2016, it was still considered substandard, offering only a second class system of justice for 41 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.

This promise was not fulfilled.