The Cable

Graham: White House never really tried to close Gitmo

Attorney General Eric Holder blamed Congress on Monday for preventing the Obama administration from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and forcing the United States to prosecute 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Cuba through a military commission and not in a civilian court. The move effectively ended Obama's promise to close the prison, by ensuring that it will be needed for trials for years to come.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a former Air Force judge advocate general who once supported closing the Guantanamo prison, said on Tuesday that it was the administration that refused to work with its allies on Capitol Hill, including himself, to establish a bipartisan legal framework to facilitate holding detainees indefinitely without trial, conduct military commissions, and in some cases, civilian trials. He said that administration officials sabotaged his negotiations with the White House in early 2009.

"We came really close, quite frankly. I just think there are people in the White House, second-level down, who were very resistant to the idea of legitimizing that we were at war," Graham told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

"When I met with then President-elect Obama there was a way forward. But you had to prove to the American people that you could find a new jail site with a legal system that was national security-centric, and they've never been able to embrace a national security-centric legal system," Graham said.

The sticking point, according to Graham, was that the Obama administration could never reach a solution to the problem of how to deal with prisoners that cannot be tried but who are too dangerous to release. If they were to be brought into the United States, the civilian legal system could not indefinitely detain them.

"We need an indefinite detention statute that can give these people some due process but also recognize this is legitimate during war," said Graham.  "All things being equal, I wish we could have found a new jail to get that chapter behind us."

Either way, Graham said, there was no way that Congress would have allowed the trial of KSM to be moved into the federal criminal court system, also known as Article 3 trials.

"There are plenty of places for Article 3 trials in this war on terror, just not with him," said Graham. "If he's not an enemy combatant, who would be?"

Graham is not alone in his contention that the Obama administration never seriously engaged Congress to help close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Throughout 2009, Democratic supporters of closing the prison at Gitmo felt abandoned as they unsuccessfully fought attempts by the GOP to insert language into congressional appropriations bills that prevented the government from spending any money to move Guantanamo prisoners to the United States.

During those debates, leading advocates of closing the facility, such as Rep. James Moran (D-VA), often complained that they could not get proper communication from either the Defense Department or the Justice Department to help them make the case.

White House counsel Greg Craig was fired at the end of 2009 for failing to implement Obama's Guantanamo promise, but Moran told The Cable at the time that the White House never really put a strong effort behind the policy.

"Greg Craig shouldn't have taken the fall over this issue," Moran told The Cable in Nov. 2009. "He thought that people would understand why it was in our nation's interest to close Guantanamo. But when things started to unwind, Greg was left there holding the ball all by himself."

The Cable

Cornyn to introduce resolution on Libyan regime change

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) will soon become the first senator to introduce a non-binding resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the war in Libya, and it calls for regime change to be the explicit policy of the United States.

Cornyn could introduce his resolution as early as today. The resolution, which was obtained by The Cable (PDF), states, "the policy of the United States should be to remove Muammar al-Qaddafi from power and to use military force, if necessary, to achieve that goal."

The resolution also calls on President Barack Obama to submit a plan to achieve Qaddafi's ouster, and to seek congressional authorization for the military intervention in Libya.

Cornyn's stance on Libya is contrary to Obama's policy in two ways: It explicitly calls for using U.S. force to oust Qaddafi and at the same time insists that Congress must approve any military action, even retroactively.

The resolution quotes Obama and other administration officials repeatedly insisting that the long-term policy is that Qaddafi should "step down." It then demands that Obama spell out exactly how that goal will be achieved and what U.S. objectives are in a post-Qaddafi Libya.

Cornyn's draft resolution also rejects the administration's assertion that a March 1 resolution calling for a no-fly zone in Libya, which passed by voice vote in the Senate, sufficed as "congressional authorization" for the extensive military operations the United States has engaged in to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

Cornyn's resolution has little chance of being passed by the Senate; it is not likely to be supported by either Democratic leadership or many Senate Republicans, who would prefer a resolution that endorses the Obama administration's limited action in Libya.

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are working on a draft of what they hope will be a consensus-winning resolution. McCain said that he wants to make sure the resolution is made up of "language that can receive an overwhelming vote in the Senate. It would not be a good signal, otherwise."

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), one of Obama's staunchest defenders on Libya, is also said to be working on a separate resolution.

But other Republican senators are complicating the issue by insisting their views on the Libyan intervention get an airing. Like Cornyn, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also wants the Senate to officially endorse regime change, a step Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adamantly opposes.

Reid's office told the Washington Post that Rubio's "rash suggestions could commit our troops irrevocably to a regime change and nation-building effort that could take months or years and cost billions of taxpayer dollars."

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who is against the Libya war, angered Reid and halted work last week on a small business bill by adding an amendment that would force the Senate to vote on whether the president has the right to wage war without congressional consent in cases where there is no imminent threat to the nation.

Paul is shining a spotlight on then-candidate Obama's 2007 statement to the Boston Globe, in which he said, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

Sooner rather than later, however, the Senate will have to find a way to express its will on the Libya war. Just whose resolution will come up for a vote, though, is still unclear.

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