Spineless U.S. Congress Kills Latest Hopes to Close Gitmo

Back in February, I visited the Guantanamo Bay prison camp during President Obama's inauguration. At the time, it sure seemed like I was witnessing the last days of a ugly chapter in American history.

Obama's first act as president was an order to close the place. The head of the detention center told me that, logistically speaking, he could have all the prisoners out of Cuba in just a few days.

Easy enough, right? Of course there was the small matter of deciding where to put the more than 200 alleged terrorists held inside the camp. And the U.S. Congress, displaying a jellyfish-esque lack of spinal column, has now punted more often than the St. Louis Rams.

Everyone wants to close Gitmo, but no one has the balls to watch a few hundred terrorists shipped into their district. Florida's always-rational delegation usefully proposed sending the bad guys to tourist trap Alcatraz, presumably to give Michael Bay fodder for his next travesty.

Now this morning comes news that Congress may have put the last nail in the coffin for Obama's fading hopes to close Gitmo by next year.

Obama's last, best hope for shuttering Gitmo was to buy a barely used max security prison in Illinois and retro-fit it for the terrorist crowd.

But the Thompson Correctional Center would have cost about $200 million, and the Bureau of Prisons doesn't have that kind of cash lying around. So Obama asked the House Appropriations Committee to squeeze the money into the new defense spending bill, The New York Times reports today.

Democratic leaders, the Times reports, said "thanks, but no thanks, Barry." Obama's administration now tells the Times they don't expect to find the cash until late 2010.

So who's to blame? Democratic leaders, for extreme lack of backbone. Republicans, for promising to play politics with anyone who dares to vote for a move to get prisoners onto U.S. soil. And Obama, for failing to find the political capital to get this done.

In the meantime, the good times will keep rolling at Gitmo, well into 2011.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink