- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hillary Clinton was for the prison at Guantanamo Bay before she was against it — and now she’ll have to defend the facility’s closing on the campaign trail, forced into a corner by President Obama’s desire for one last legacy-building accomplishment.

Late Tuesday, hours after Mr. Obama announced his plans to try to bring dozens of terror suspects to the U.S. Mrs. Clinton announced her support for his effort.

“Over the years, Guantanamo has inspired more terrorists than it has imprisoned,” she said in a statement. “It has not strengthened our national security; it has damaged it.”

Mr. Obama released his blueprint Tuesday morning, saying between 30 and 60 prisoners deemed too dangerous to put on trial or to release to foreign countries should be shipped to potential detention sites in South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado.

It’s already a political issue in South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary this weekend — and Mrs. Clinton didn’t address the resettlement issue in her statement.

In polls, voters are opposed to Mr. Obama’s moves. A CNN/ORC survey last summer found 53 percent of Americans wanted the prison to remain open, while 44 percent thought it should be closed with prisoners transferred to other facilities.

And all three states slated to potentially receive detainees oppose Mr. Obama’s plans, with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley vowing to block any transfers from the Cuban prison to her state. Kansas and Missouri lawmakers, in a broadly bipartisan coalition, denounced having prisoners potentially relocated to, or close, to their states on Tuesday, reflecting constituents’ widely held “not in my backyard” sentiment.

Campaigning last week in South Carolina, Republican presidential candidates said they would oppose closing Guantanamo, would reverse Mr. Obama’s plans if he carries them through before he leaves office — and even said the Cuban prison should be restocked with new terrorist suspects from the Islamic State and other jihadi movements.

But Mrs. Clinton last week skirted questions.

“The president has to decide what he thinks should be done,” Mrs. Clinton said. “He hasn’t yet, so I don’t have a response. I want to see what he’s going to recommend. And I don’t know what he’s going to recommend, so I don’t want to prejudge what he’s going to say.”

Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s chief rival for the White House, embraced Mr. Obama’s plans Tuesday, and said Mrs. Clinton’s own record has been checkered.

“I am encouraged to see that the president is sending Congress a plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison. As I have said for years, the prison at Guantanamo must be closed as quickly as possible,” Mr. Sanders, who visited the prison during a 2014 trip to Cuba, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Others, including my opponent, have not always agreed with me.”

In her own statement hours later, Mrs. Clinton tried to argue she was a longtime supporter of closing the prison, including working as the Obama administration’s top diplomat to encourage other countries to resettle prisoners.

In 2007, as a senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton co-sponsored a bill to require the president to close the prison and relocate all remaining prisoners to the U.S.

Then a little more than a month later — and well into her 2008 presidential bid — she reversed course, voting for an amendment banning transfer to the U.S. Mr. Sanders voted against the amendment, one of only three votes to allow detainees on American soil.

As the 2008 campaign wore on, Mrs. Clinton said she supported closing the prison but was less specific on what to do with the detainees. Her national security adviser at the time, Lee Feinstein, told multiple press organizations Mrs. Clinton would refer Guantanamo cases to the Justice Department to see what the best avenue of prosecution would be.

Even before the campaign flip-flops, Mrs. Clinton was hedging her bets. As a senator in 2006 she made the case that the president had the right to hold enemy combatants until the war on terror was over — even if the individuals had been acquitted of any crime at trial.

“You do not have to let people go,” Mrs. Clinton said during a Senate hearing. “These are enemy combatants, prisoners of war, whatever we want to call them. I mean, we had Nazis in prison camps in our country for years. And then the hostilities ended and they were let go.”

When confronted about the statement on the 2008 campaign trail, Mr. Feinstein said Mrs. Clinton was simply explaining the law, not expressing her own stance.

As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton took a more bullish position on closing down Guantanamo, advising the president during the last few weeks of her tenure on how to accomplish the task politically.

In 2013, Mrs. Clinton sent a confidential memo to the president urging him to take a more aggressive position on shuttering the prison. Mrs. Clinton didn’t endorse the idea of bringing detainees to the U.S. but did suggest they should be tried here. The Huffington Post first obtained the memo, which was released through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“We must signal to our old and emerging allies alike that we remain serious about turning the page on GTMO and the practices of the prior decade,” Mrs. Clinton wrote.

“The revitalization of transfers, efforts to prosecute some detainees in federal courts, a longer-term approach to the return of Yemeni detainees, and credible periodic reviews would send that signal and renew a credible detention policy,” she wrote.

As secretary, Mrs. Clinton also praised the transfer of convicted murder Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay to a Canadian prison, emails show.

“Thank you for all you did to get this resolved,” then-Secretary Clinton wrote to State Department legal adviser Harold Koh in a September 29, 2012 email, which was first reported by Vice News.

Mrs. Clinton also supported Mr. Obama’s 2009 plans to move some detainees to an Illinois prison that the federal government had plans to buy to hold them.

“Not only will this help address the urgent overcrowding problem at our nation’s Federal prisons, but it will also help achieve our goal of closing the detention center at Guantanamo in a timely, secure, and lawful manner,” said a letter addressed to the state’s governor, Pat Quinn, and signed by Mrs. Clinton, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

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