Obama Flouts the Rule of Law
A new prison scheme could enable him to close Gitmo.

The Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois


Andrew C. McCarthy

President Obama had a scheme. He wanted to fulfill his commitment to close the jihadist violent-extremist detention facility at Gitmo and ship stateside the remaining detainees — of whom there are now about 168. Thomson would let him kill two birds with one stone: First, he could bail out his fellow Illinois Democrats, whose governance has driven the state into insolvency, by having debt-ridden Uncle Sam fork up over $160 million to take the prison equivalent of a bridge to nowhere off their hands. Next, he could close Gitmo by transferring the remaining detainees there — which would entail spending even more millions to convert Thomson into a high-security facility fit to hold trained terrorists. And all this, notwithstanding that we have already spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to make Gitmo a perfect fit for our needs.

The president’s scheme did not work — at least, it has not worked yet. There was intense congressional opposition to closing Gitmo and moving the terrorists inside our country. And for once, Congress went beyond toothless bloviating: It backed its opposition up with legislation that bars the executive branch from using congressionally appropriated funds to transfer the detainees into the U.S.

Yet once again, the administration and congressional Democrats, particularly Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, are stepping up pressure to have the federal government buy Thomson. They claim that this is no longer about moving the terrorists — no one, they assure us, is trying to do that anymore. Now, we’re to believe this is just another Keynesian stimulus — as if, after hundreds of billions of failed stimulus, that somehow makes it all okay. Thomson is being hyped as a way to “create jobs” in Illinois. Proponents also contend that a federal purchase will address what is suddenly framed as a “crisis” in federal-prison overcrowding. Funny — the reason Thomson was built in the first place is that these same Illinois pols claimed there was a crisis in state-prison overcrowding. Yet, Thomson lies empty.

Durbin and other Democrats are squeezing Frank Wolf of Virginia, the Republican who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Representative Wolf has also always been strong when it comes to American security against the terrorist threat. He is blocking the federal purchase of Thomson. It makes no economic sense for Illinois’s fiscal recklessness to be socialized onto the rest of the country, particularly when we’ve already paid for Gitmo and when Leviathan is even more of a fiscal basketcase than the Land of Lincoln. Moreover, it makes no national-security sense to give Obama a golden invitation to close Gitmo and transfer terrorists into the country once the election is over.

On that latter point, it is contended that the administration understands that Congress opposes the transfer of trained-terrorist enemy combatants into the country, and that the Justice Department has thus abandoned this plan. Don’t believe it.

The Obama administration is not pushing this hugely unpopular initiative now — for the same reason that it arranged for many of its other agenda items, including the phase-in of Obamacare and the phase-out of the Bush tax cuts, to be postponed until after the election. If Obama had to run on the things he wants to do, he could not win. Shrewdly, he has tried to take them off the table, figuring that Republicans are too inept and timid to make them into campaign issues.

But remember this: When Obama signed the legislation banning him from transferring the detainees into the country, he did so under protest. As a senator and as a presidential candidate, he objected strenuously to President Bush’s use of “signing statements.” These were proclamations, made when Bush signed laws, that certain aspects of the legislation were deemed by the executive branch to be unconstitutional and unenforceable. As president, Obama has not only muted his criticism of signing statements, he has resorted to them. In that vein, he and his Justice Department have argued that congressional attempts to prohibit him from transferring alien enemy combatants into our country are invalid.