In his commencement speech to graduates of the United States Military Academy on Wednesday, President Barack Obama swore to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the U.S. military prison located within the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the island of Cuba.
“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” Obama told West Point graduates. “But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”
At this point, the White House press office dutifully records, the future military leaders cordially applauded.
“And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo,” the president continued. “Because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.”
After following this statement with a promise to reform his massive spy apparatus and platitudes about “lasting peace,” Obama went on to lament that “there has been a crackdown on civil society” despite his administration’s very best intentions.
Obama’s West Point speech is definitely not the first time he has sworn to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Throughout his 2008 presidential campaign, he repeatedly made the same promise. As his staffers were preparing for his presidency, Obama announced the launch of a Gitmo-related classified document review that would occur as soon as he took office.
At the time, reported The Washington Post, Obama’s confident advisers were certain that they could shutter the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison for detainees captured in the War on Terror (mostly in Afghanistan). They told the Post – anonymously – that a quick closure of Gitmo would symbolize a pointed reversal of George W. Bush’s foreign policy and generate a huge swell of international goodwill toward the United States.
On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after Obama took office, he signed an order that would suspend the Guantanamo military commission for 120 days and then shut it down later in the year.
The power of Obama’s pen failed miserably. In May 2009, by a 90–6 vote, the Senate amended the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 to block all funding for the transfer or release of any Guantanamo Bay detainees.
In December 2009, Obama tried another gambit. He issued a memorandum ordering the renovation of maximum security prison in rural, western Illinois so that Gitmo prisoners could live there. That plan failed also miserably due to lack of federal funding.
After the West Point speech, CNN reporter Jim Clancy questioned the wisdom of Obama’s foreign policy pontification at West Point, claiming the president’s policy of disengagement was met with an “icy reception” from the future Army officers. (RELATED: CNN Reporter: Obama’s Speech Earned ‘Icy Reception’ From West Point Grads)
As of April, 154 prisoners of war were still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.