Thanks to Lynn Sweet, we now know who was responsible for placing the ban on federal funds for federal criminal trials of Guantanamo detainees in the National Defense Authorization Act. It was the Illinois Republican delegation, concerned about the rather remote possibility that the Obama administration would ultimately be moving detainees to the designated “Gitmo North” Thompson former correctional facility. In fact, the ban is almost a non-sequitur in this regard, except in the sense that it makes it more difficult to close Gitmo, both by banning trials and making voluntary transfers to countries with “known recidivists” conditional on the approval of the Secretary of Defense.
That’s not the whole story though. Jen DiMascio reports that the Democrats acquiesced to the ban as part of a deal to go forward with repealing DADT
The merits of the deal are worth talking about, but I think the revelation of a deal is also important, for two reasons.
First, I tend to look at legislation in isolation. I follow what I’m interested in, but on some practical, intuitive level that approach does not make sense, and I know it. I can and should assume there is Congressional and White House horsetrading on several pieces or projects at the same time, and that’s worth remembering.
Further, I think members of Congress (and to some extent, the political media) want us to look at each piece of legislation in isolation. That way, we can listen to the lofty statements of members as they list objections on each item, ostensibly looking at the bill in isolation and on the (individual) merits, with the deal-making process going on behind the scenes.
These debates would sound a lot different if Senators or House members were appearing on cable and stating, simply “I traded X for Y, so there ya go”. That would remove a lot of the mystery, certainly. Maybe this agonizing deal-making is so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated, but I don’t think it is. I suspect it’s valuable for all of us “out here” to see the bargaining behind the scenes more often because, well, that’s what really happened.
Second, I think Guantanamo closure is an example of how an executive order is really a limited and narrow tool. It’s quick, it’s (relatively) painless, but if there’s no majority Congressional or public support, an executive order can easily be rendered meaningless by Congress, or even backfire, as it seems to have here.