The Cable

Greg Craig, Gitmo fall guy

Gitmo watchers who've paid close attention to the Obama administration's troubled effort to close the Cuba prison were surprised by a startling article in the Washington Post today in which White House Counsel Greg Craig says he basically mishandled the effort to close Guantánamo and which quotes sources as claiming he may leave the White House if an overseas appointment for him can be found.

Several advocates of closing the prison -- as Obama pledged to do within one year as one of his first acts as president -- said Craig is being made the fall guy for a lack of attention across the senior levels of the government, combined with the unwillingness of congressional Democrats to stand behind the plan to close the prison.

"I think it's bizarre to blame Greg Craig for Guantánamo and whatever challenges they faced in closing it," said Ken Gude, Guantánamo expert at the Center for American Progress.

The administration got off to a slow start and then got caught flat-footed when GOP senators and former Vice President Dick Cheney teamed up to spread the idea that closing the prison would lead to terrorists being released in American communities. And the administration never coordinated with congressional allies to lay the needed groundwork.

"To blame Craig because there was no legislative strategy in the White House strikes a lot of us as unfair and odd," said Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The other main claim in the article, namely that the Obama administration couldn't meet its own timeline because the Bush administration left the files on the 226 prisoners in Guantánamo in disarray, is true, but also not the real reason behind the strategy failure, she said.

The administration's real failure was in the spring - around April and May -- when the Republicans decided to make the Guantánamo issue their focus and congressional Democrats, feeling abandoned by the White House, yielded the debate.

Virginia Democratic Rep.  James Moran, who led a one-man charge to counter GOP's Guantánamo campaign, said there were many Obama officials to blame in an interview with The Cable.

"Greg Craig was not the person responsible for the delay on the Guantanamo plan," said Moran. "He is a professional; he was given a lot to do, little backup, and apparently virtually no information on the background of the detainees and the kind of talking points that were needed."

Congress was stonewalled, not just by Craig, but by the Defense Department and Justice Department as well.

"Those of us on the Hill who wanted to defend the administration's policy because we knew we had the facts on our side got no back up, no support, no information," Moran said, speculating that the Obama team simply didn't want to spend political capital on the issue.

That became clear to Moran and others in Congress in May, when the war funding bill was moving through Congress and Republicans took to the airwaves to decry the plan to shudder the prison. "We were at the Alamo, and the cavalry was galloping in the other direction," said Moran, "I think it was a political decision. I don't know who made it, but I very much doubt it was Greg Craig."

Other key appropriators who were trying to fund the effort, such as defense subcommittee chairman Jack Murtha, D-PA, and Appropriations chairman David Obey, D-WI, couldn't and wouldn't fight the Republican machine without Obama's help.

"They talked to the White House and the White House wasn't willing to stand alongside them," said Moran. The thinking among Democrats was, "If we can't take advantage of Obama's credibility on this issue, we probably are not going win."

Now the administration is trying to press the reset button on Guantánamo, but Moran argued the damage is done and it is now nearly impossible to sell the idea of moving the prisoners to U.S. soil.

"This is their first major fuck up, and it's an enormous fuckup, because now that you've lost ground you're not going to be able to recover it," said Moran.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Iran, Burma, North Korea, sex tape

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of today's briefing by spokesman Ian Kelly:

  • Regarding the news about the secret Iranian nuclear facility in Qom, Kelly said that despite the fact that the American intelligence committee has been watching it for years, "in and of itself the information that we announced today does not contradict the assessment that we made in the [National Intelligence Estimate] in 2007" which said that Iran was no longer working to make nuclear weapons. Really?
  • Amid all the news about Iran's nuclear ambitions, let's not forget their detention of American and Canadian citizens without due process, Kelly said. "Individuals in detention include Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, retired Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi, and American hikers Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd. American Robert Levinson has also been missing in Iran since March of 2007."
  • No release of the pending Burma policy review today, Kelly said. Should be "early next week," maybe even Monday. Has to be before Wednesday, when assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell climbs the Hill to testify before Senator Jim Webb's subcommittee on the new strategy of engaging the junta.
  • In other Asia news, President Obama has announced his intention to nominate for House Foreign Affairs Committee staffer Robert King as the new Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights. No word on whether or not King will actually get to be in any of the meetings with the North Koreans. "I think first we have to make the decision we're going to actually have the bilateral talks, and then we'll see who actually participates in it," Kelly said.
  • No announcement yet on whether Amb. Stephen Bosworth will be sent to meet with the North Koreans, but his right-hand man Sung Kim had meetings with South Korean negotiator Wi Sung-lac, which should mean that all the necessary "consultations" are done.
  • And finally, responding to e-mails from readers of The Cable about yesterday's Briefing Skipper, I hereby offer you the link to the (maybe) fake sex tape that is at the center of the scandal involving Kyle Hatcher, an aide to U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle in Russia and the Russian intelligence community/press. Warning: NSFW!