Obama’s Gitmo guru plays fall guy as admin backpeddles on facility closure

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Obama took office, confident he would fulfill his campaign promise to close Club Gitmo in a year’s time. To head up the closure details, he appointed White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig… a leading voice for instituting a closure deadline. Despite the advice of other of Obama’s top advisors, warning against any such deadlines, he chose political posturing and poll bumps, signing the EOs… thereby obligating himself to a deadline he was doomed to miss.

Today, as reported by WaPo staffers, Anne E. Kornblut and Dafna Linzer, Obama’s WH is not only quietly backpeddling on his false “hopes”, but has already arranged for Craig’s payment for his scapegoat services – dangling a possible seat on the bench or a diplomatic position.

The POTUS, ever conscious of never wanting to be the focus of blame for failure, tapped Pete Rouse back in May as Craig’s replacement, and pulled in message strategist, Axlerod and deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer to craft the new talking points when the manure of broken promises hit the proverbial fan.

With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress.

Even before the inauguration, President Obama’s top advisers settled on a course of action they were counseled against: announcing that they would close the facility within one year. Today, officials are acknowledging that they will be hard-pressed to meet that goal.


The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge not devising a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress.

To address these setbacks, the administration has shifted its leadership team on the issue. White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who initially guided the effort to close the prison and who was an advocate of setting the deadline, is no longer in charge of the project, two senior administration officials said this week.

Craig said Thursday that some of his early assumptions were based on miscalculations, in part because Bush administration officials and senior Republicans in Congress had spoken publicly about closing the facility. “I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives,” he said.

In May, one of the senior officials said, Obama tapped Pete Rouse — a top adviser and former congressional aide who is not an expert on national security but is often called in to fix significant problems — to oversee the process. Senior adviser David Axelrod and deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer were brought in to craft a more effective message around detainee policy, the official said.

“It was never going to be easy, but we have worked through some of the early challenges and are on a strong course,” Pfeiffer said.

Obama’s failure cannot be cast upon the opposing party, powerless to do much damage in a supermajority Congress. In a double whammy of misguided delegation of duties, Craig dropped the Gitmo ball when he simply stopped showing up for briefings, and refocused his tasks on getting Sotomayor confirmed for the SCOTUS.

Although the move was approved by all of Obama’s senior advisers and, ultimately, the president himself, the deadline came at the suggestion of Craig, according to two senior government officials involved in the process. Craig declined to comment on internal discussions.

Craig oversaw the drafting of the executive order that set Jan. 22, 2010, as the date by which the prison must be closed.

“It seemed like a bold move at the time, to lay out a time frame that to us seemed sufficient to meet the goal,” one senior official said. “In retrospect, it invited a fight with the Hill and left us constantly looking at the clock.”

“The entire civil service counseled him not to set a deadline” to close Guantanamo, according to one senior government lawyer.

In those early months, Craig was unquestionably the central figure in the effort to shut Guantanamo Bay. In an interview with The Washington Post in February, he said he was managing the closure “on a day-to-day basis.”

Craig began reviewing the cases of each detainee at the facility, and was one of the first senior officials to travel to the prison, visiting on Feb. 18, ahead of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

But as time wore on, congressional staff members said, they stopped hearing from Craig. Although there were periodic briefings with members of the Justice Department’s task forces, there was no longer a point person from the White House who appeared to be shepherding the issue, according to one Republican aide. Craig became involved in other matters, such as vetting, ethics and the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

But Craig’s distraction with SCOTUS appointments was further thwarted by Obama’s own party for lack of a concrete plan for what to do with the detainees.

Additionally, the admin erroneously assumed they’d be walking into a carefully organized file system on each detainee… a pipedream at best since every attempt for military tribunals and/or trials was challenged by detainee lawyers and SCOTUS opinions for years. Any attempt at handling what the prior administration considered enemy combatants was quashed with multiple filings in sundry court systems. Forward movement was paralyzed with confusing jurisdiction, vague interpretations of Cuba as sovereign soil, and attorneys willing to muddy the waters in order to implement delay tactics.

As time dragged on, even public polls…. once providing a naive, fresh faced POTUS with accolades… turned against the Gitmo tide. The final nail in the coffin came from the President’s own party when the Dem controlled Congress in the normally embattled Senate voted 90-6 to block any further funding for closing the facilities in May…. compounding that with even more legislation to increase the bureaucratic red tape.

Republicans pounced on the closure, alleging that it would make the United States “less safe.” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats would “under no circumstances” move forward without more specifics.

The following month, Congress passed an appropriations bill that required the administration to report its plans before moving any detainee out of Guantanamo Bay and prevented it from using available money to move detainees onto U.S. soil.

Six pending pieces of legislation would make it harder for Obama to close the prison and transfer detainees to the United States or foreign countries.

Craig… still flailing as a Gitmo lame duck… then tried to mend the situation by shipping off four of the detained Uighurs to Bermuda and their new restaurant. A move that enraged Britain, and caused int’l tension between China and the UK.

After the congressional setbacks, Craig orchestrated the release of four of the Uighurs, flying with them and a State Department official from Guantanamo Bay to Bermuda, a self-governing British territory whose international relations are administered by Britain.

The transfer produced a diplomatic rift. British and U.S. officials said the Obama administration gave Britain two hours’ notice that the Uighurs were being sent to Bermuda. “They essentially snuck them in, and we were furious,” said a senior British official.

The move also caused friction between Britain and China, which seeks the Uighurs for waging an insurgency against the Chinese government.

But the Obama admin is always beholding to those who willingly place their heads on the chopping block for the fearless leader. Rahm’bo is busy espousing accolades for Craig, saying he “…played a critical role in pursuing the president’s goal of ensuring that we protect our nation’s security interests in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our values.” Yet another unnamed WH minion went further… “Greg Craig is a hero. He took responsibility for this policy from the beginning, and he has guts and character. If we can’t get it done by the deadline, then at least we’ll have done as much as we can as smoothly as we could have.”

In an effort to pad failure, there’s another unlikely distraction emerging from the Gitmo ranks… Retiring Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert has now emerged to say he thought Gitmo was a mistake from the beginning.

In early 2002, then-Brig. Gen. Lehnert was commander of Joint Task Force 160, the unit given the job of quickly building prison cells at the U.S. base in Cuba for “enemy combatants” captured in Afghanistan. It was meant to be a short-lived job, and Lehnert left after 100 days.

“I came to the conclusion very soon that this probably wasn’t the right way to go,” Lehnert, 58, said during a media round table yesterday. “Probably before I left Guantanamo, I was of the opinion it needed to go away as soon as possible.”

Citing that the US needed to take the moral high road, Lehnert’s beefs were of detainee treatment and being held without trial. But it’s interesting that Lehnert made this decisions in 2002… years prior to any SCOTUS decision on habeas corpus, and before a single interrogation had taken place at the facility. A bit premature, one would think, to make an informed judgment on the wisdom of a holding tank for enemies captured in the battle zones. I, personally, would like to hear Lehnert’s opinions on Bagram… Obama’s current “Gitmo” on Afghan soil.

But there is a politically suspicious timing to Lehnert’s belated confessions. As even a defense attorney for one Canadian detainee at Guantanamo said, why now and not before?

“If he thought that at the time, why didn’t he do anything about it?” asked Colby Vokey, a former Marine defense attorney who served at Camp Pendleton before retiring last year.

Why indeed. Lehnert avers he made his opinions known… obviously very early in the game since he made his decision pre-interrogations, and pre-SCOTUS decisions, as I said… thru the proper chain of command. And why would that chain of command act to close Gitmo on this commander’s recommendation that early in the game? What has he done since that time?

But most importantly, Lehnert… not yet fully retired as of today… has decided to speak out, coincidently on the exact same day that the WaPo story hits about the WH quietly acknowledging their Gitmo failures. Wow…. how convenient is that?

Could it be that a Retiring-but-not-yet-retired Maj. Gen. is speaking out timely and early, hoping to be on a short list for an Obama appointment?

Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard’s “The Blog”, has added a few more of the admin’s desperate and vast fingerpointing to save face on it’s poor judgment call… ranging from accusations against those superminority in Congress, the Republicans, to the Republican Bush admin record keeping. A number of the same who, I would guess, are still present at the Pentagon even today.

However the yen stops at the Oval Office. There were meetings prior to the Inauguration, the status of the records and why the disarray were obvious. The difficulty of detainee trials and/or relocation was a long standing problem. None of this was stealth sabatoge on this admin. It was as plain as day long before Obama pulled a lever in a voting ballot to give himself the job of leader of the free world.

Gitmo is yet another example of a headstrong, naive community organizer who acts before he thinks, merely to elicit public adoration. As a mere Josephine Blow citizen, I find it embarrassing to see it takes a POTUS/CIC eight months to recognize what I saw as absolute folly at the very minute of the grandiose signing ceremony of the Gitmo EOs. Could our POTUS genuinely be this dense and entrenched in his own fantasyland?

Well… one consistency still remains. As his Presidential legacy “clearly” shows, it’s never his fault….

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off subject but a bill SB-2099 will require all guns to be listed on fed. 2010 tax returns- 50 dollar tax per gun- fingerprints required. not voted on . Does anyone know if its true. Was it in HR 45.

Mata; In an effort to pad failure, there’s another unlikely distraction emerging from the Gitmo ranks… Retiring Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert has now emerged to say he thought Gitmo was a mistake from the beginning.

I see, so we should not automatically believe every general is right and not political?

Mata: And of course not every Major General or other military hierarchy is always “right”. There are as many opinions among the military as there are career soldiers.

I agree with you totally.

As to the timing of his comment, maybe opportunistic, maybe not, I don’t have binoculars into the man’s heart or brain. I will take him at face value until then.

Mata: Rather like most the nation does Obama, despite what goes on under their noses? Sniff the air, blast… the stench is getting stronger, and eventually it will be hard to ignore.

The stench was very very strong before President Obama came along Mata. It is hard to smell the new garbage dump right next door to the old garbage dump. I am not going to treat him better or worse than former President Bush, but honestly in this blog it would be hard to treat him worse.

Lehnert enjoyed quite a meteoric rise from the enlisted ranks to his current two-star status. He would be considered a “water walker.” I’m just speculating here, but maybe it went to his head and he considered the sky the limit. Then, when he failed to get that third star, his ego was bruised and he blamed it on his Gitmo assignment. Some of these guys can’t accept that retirement eventually comes to everyone. Being a military officer is like being a professional athlete. Eventually you have to retire from the arena and create a new life for yourself. It can be a painful transition. I appreciate and admire the service he gave to his country and I wish him the best. I just hope this isn’t a shameless pitch for a high ranking job in the current administration.

Mata: I see…. so if you thought the stench was strong under Bush, you think that’s the “get out of jail free card” for Obama to quadruple the garbage. i.e. “hey, it was already a garbage pile… what’s a little more?”

Mata the truth hurts huh? Stench is stench. President Bush would have been out of power as well as the Republicans much earlier if they did not artifically inflate the bubble and DESTROY our economy. Not only did we ship our manufacturing sector to China, we borrowed money from them to inflate the bubble. Now we make jack. Great free market policies America, right on… keep up the good work… at this rate we are not only bankrupt we don’t have any tangible assets to use to get ourselves out of the hole (hey why not let GM crumble for good measure or bitch about saving it). That did not just happen in JUST the past 8 months Mata… we are in a world of hurt and I am not drinking the tea. Pres Obama is spending way too much, but where the hell were the true conservatives the past 8 years, tax cuts that bottom line were deficits… a false economy of paper bs. Everyone that was in a love fest with the past president can’t wash that stink off themselves.

Mata: I don’t even mind that he has his opinions on Gitmo.

Sure you do. Your whole piece is an attack on him. You can’t sugar coat it with some oh, he is a humanitarian and then attack his motives with NO REAL EVIDENCE outside of your supposition about the timing.

@MataHarley:

high strung emotions and BS

Blast high strung and emotional? Get outta here!

Mata: My “whole piece” is an attack on Lehnert? No, Blast. My “whole piece” is an attack on Obama. Lehnert got six paragraphs of my commentary, of which only three questioned his timing and motives.

That is funny, really. *Only six paragraphs, three of which questioned his timing and motives* – what is the threshold on whether the piece is not an attack on him or or is not? One, three, six paragraphs or, all of them. Basket weaver. A thread of this a thread of that. It does not look good.

You make such a grand little apologist, Blast. Deficient on history if you think manufacturing and industry bolting the country began with the one you so love to hate, Bush.

It did not just begin with Bush, but if you look at what happened during his presidency, the results speak for themselves – big time. If anyone is an “apologist” would be anyone that would defend the former President.

Done with you.

Good night.