Thom Shanker and David Sanger are reporting in the New York Times today that both Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary State Rice advocated for Bush to shut down the enemy combatant detainee operation at Guantanamo Bay, citing Bush’s own public hope that it could be closed as well as the growing domestic/international negative impact that G’tmo continues to have on U.S. (essentially putting America in the role of hypocrite when it pushes for strengthened human rights elsewhere). However, Vice President Cheney, backed by Attorney General Gonzales successfully convinced the president otherwise, noting that there is no clear answer on what else to do with the detainee population.
There are about 385 detainees still being held at G’tmo, some of whome are awaiting trial four years after their capture before the hotly contested and legally questionable military tribunals. Secretary Gates did, however, successfully kill plans to build a $100 million courthouse and extended detention compound at G’tmo, arguing that to move forward with that project would amount to admitting that the detainee operation would be more permanent in nature than the government has been willing to admit thus far.
Typically when a Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State align on a given foreign/security policy issue, they carry the day. That Gates and Rice were unable to sway the president to effectuate his own repeated promise to close the facility in the face of countervailing arguments from the Vice President and Attorney General speaks volumes about the continuing success of Cheney’s hypnotic spell over the president. Whether that effect will be ameliorated on this particular issue by the imminent demise of Gonzales remains to be seen; but I doubt it. Cheney has proven time and again that he’s quite comfortable being the lone voice on issues that he cares about while (usually successfully) concealing his tracks.