Despite Obama promise, no Gitmo closing until 2011 

If you want more evidence that Barack Obama was a bit wet behind the ears and inexperienced before assuming the presidency, look no further than the ongoing Guantanamo prison debacle. His campaign pledge to shut down Guantanamo Bay and replace it within a year was a shocking display of naivete about the complexities of our national security apparatus and the grave concerns involved in the war on terror. White House counsel Greg Craig was recently forced to step down over charges that he botched the Gitmo closing, though the conventional wisdom isn't that Craig did anything wrong so much as the White House needed another speedbump for the executive bus that's careening out of control. Well, they don't have Greg Craig to kick around anymore, and now it looks like Guantanmo still won't be closed until well into 2011:

Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantánamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest — a far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama’s signature national security policies than they had previously hinted.

The delay is in part because leaders of his own party in Congress aren't helping Obama with his plan to move hardened terrorists to American soil:

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.

But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for Thomson.

The administration will probably not have another opportunity until Congress takes up a supplemental appropriations bill for the Afghanistan war. Lawmakers are not likely to finish that bill until late March or April.

Moreover, the administration now says that the current focus for Thomson financing is the appropriations legislation for the 2011 fiscal year. Congress will not take that measure up until late 2010.

There's talk that the President may invoke some little-known national emergency statute to get the funding, but Guantanamo is a perfectly servicable prison -- and indeed preferable to one in Illinois -- so it's hard to see the justification given that this move is largely abut political considerations.

As for whether the new Illinois prision really will open in 2011, at this rate we'll believe it when we see it.

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Mark Hemingway

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