- - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Barack Obama is obsessed with transferring the 91 terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to prisons in the United States. They don’t even have to promise to be good. He knows Congress won’t let him do it, but he won’t give it up. He renewed his plea Tuesday and the congressional reception was a firm, harsh “no.”

The president says he only wants a “fair hearing,” so he won’t have to pass the issue to his successor next January. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican majority, says the Senate will “review” the plan, “but since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”

Mr. Obama does know that. “I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantanamo,” he said Tuesday. “The politics of this are tough .”

What he seems not to understand is that the prisoners are unrepentant terrorists who have not given up their mission to kill Americans in their sworn war against the United States. They are not mistreated at Guantanamo; the lawyer for 13 Yemini detainees says his clients want to be released, not transferred to prisons in the United States “where conditions of confinement would probably be harsher than in Cuba.”

The Pentagon has selected 13 prospective prisons for the prisoners, but won’t identify them. Pentagon officials visited military prisons at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Charleston, S.C., and several civilian “supermax”prisons in Colorado, suggesting that these are likely candidates.

Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says the prisoners should stay where they are. “Enemy combatants should remain outside the United States, where they can be detained away from our communities and without needlessly jeopardizing the safety and security of the American people.” The logic and common sense of Mr. Goodlatte’s reasoning is difficult to argue with, and Mr. Obama is one of the few who wants to try. There were hints Tuesday that he might try to make one of his celebrated end runs around Congress with an executive order.

The congressional ban on bringing the prisoners to the United States was enacted by a Democratic Congress, and in this election year, when control of Congress has switched to the Republicans, the chances of congressional reversal are regarded as between zero and none. So the larger question is why would the president be tempted to make such a doomed attempt to do something almost nobody wants?

Perhaps he’s deliberately setting up a confrontation with Congress. Several senior aides and advisers at the White House, and some merely former aides, have suggested that his authority as commander in chief includes the authority to move the Guantanamo prisoners as he sees fit. He ignored a reporter’s shouted question asking whether he would act on his own to accomplish the closing of the Cuban prison, but he told his audience Tuesday that “the fact that I’m no longer running, Joe [Biden] is no longer running … gives us the capacity to not have to worry about the politics.”

The president says the prison at Guantanamo wastes money, raises tensions with allies and fuels anti-American sentiments abroad. But he’s not the president of “abroad.” He should put aside any notion that he’s the president of the world, as grand as that may be, and listen to what America is telling him, loud and clear: Keep the terrorists of Guantanamo where they are. They don’t belong here.

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