At last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama repeated the same empty promise he’s been making for years: “I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo: it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”

Of course, the president is 100 percent correct on his assessment of the detention facility. It cost the federal government $2.7 million to house a Guantanamo inmate each year, according to a 2013 estimate. Al-Qaeda has referenced the prison multiple times in their propaganda magazines and videos. Moreover, it’s morally reprehensible that a nation that prides itself on due process are holding mere terrorists suspects indefinitely without trial.

Nevertheless, the American people are tired of the president’s same old song and dance when it comes to Guantanamo. President Obama has been promising to shut it down since before he was even president — as early as November 2007, to be specific. What happened?

What happened was politics. Burhan Wazir explains in Al Jazeera:

Opposition to its closure involves two central issues which Obama has been unable to resolve. One is finding host countries to take in all the detainees. The other issue concerns whether some of the detainees can be moved to “supermax” facilities within the United States.
This becomes a legal mess for the White House. How would the president legally justify holding prisoners indefinitely on US soil? The US administration has not explained how they would get around US law – something it has been able to do in Guantanamo Bay.
The president’s opponents seized on reports that a transferred detainee returned to the battlefield after being released. Abdul Qayum Zakir, who, according to US intelligence, became a Taliban military commander after his release from Guantanamo Bay. In late 2010, an emboldened US Congress passed a law requiring the US secretary of defense to personally certify to Congress that a released detainee “cannot engage or re-engage in any terrorist activity” – which will prove almost impossible to police.
With all these challenges in mind, it’s odd that Obama would repeat his promise of closing Guantanamo. If he could not do it in 2009, with a Democratic-controlled Congress, it seems all but impossible now with Republicans in charge.
Don’t get me wrong, I support the president in this effort — a statement I seldom make. However, civil libertarians shouldn’t draw any renewed sense of excitement from this repeated promised.
Obama has broken his promise for the last seven years. What’s to think he’ll keep it in the eighth?
Did Obama really just promise to shut down Guantanamo again? AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Casey Given About the author:
Casey Given is executive Director of Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter @caseyjgiven
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