Now that President Obama has proven Congress can’t stop him from releasing terrorists, the administration could be primed to empty out the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
President Obama released five Taliban leaders from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on Saturday without consulting Congress and without strict assurances that the militants won’t somehow return to the fight. Republicans on Capitol Hill worry that the swap of these Taliban leaders for American hostage Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a prelude to a bigger move-the emptying out of Guantanamo entirely.
In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama promised to shutter the prison built on Cuban soil by the end of the year. Obama now has seven months to fulfill his latest promise to shut down Guantanamo-or come as close to it as he can. During that time, Congress will be unable to prevent the release of the 149 prisoners still there.
“This whole deal may have been a test to see how far the administration can actually push it, and if Congress doesn’t fight back they will feel more empowered to move forward with additional transfers,” said one senior GOP senate aide close to the issue. “They’ve lined up all the dominoes to be able to move a lot more detainees out of Guantanamo and this could be just the beginning.”
Now there’s growing concern on Capitol Hill that President Obama now intends to bypass Congress to fulfill his promise to close the prison by releasing scores of more Guantanamo prisoners with little public or even private debate. Lawmakers and staffers see the Bergdahl case as only the latest maneuver in a larger plan to cut Congress out of the Guantanamo issue; and they’re not exactly reassured by senior administration officials’ refusal to disclose what steps will be taken to mitigate the risk that these prisoners could become involved again in the Afghan insurgency.
Of course, the Bergdahl case is a special one. Partially due to concern over Bergdahl’s fate, Congress actually gave up a significant amount of oversight of Guantanamo releases last December by passing a defense policy bill that eased the burden on the administration before releasing prisoners. Now, it’s just a simple Congressional notification. The law itself contains no enforcement measures and Obama even issued a signing statement at the time saying even the remaining restrictions violated his Constitutional prerogative.
Read more from Josh Rogin at The Daily Beast.