The closure of Guantánamo: a modern Gordian Knot

In a 21st century version of the Gordian Knot legend dating back to 333 BC, President Barack Obama boldly tried to resolve one of the most intractable human rights and national security problems he inherited on his first day in office: the closure of the detention facility in Guantánamo, Cuba. Similar to Alexander the Great's solution of simply cutting the unsolvable knot tied by Midas in half without actually trying to untangle it, the modern leader of the free world signed in 2009 an executive order to close Guantánamo within a year.

The enthusiasm of that day quickly gave way to a more profound realisation of the difficulties of this endeavour. When a federal judge in 2008 ordered a group of Uyghur detainees to be released from Guantánamo and transferred to the United States, his decision was overturned in 2009, and a highly politicised Congress made any such transfers to the US impossible by prohibiting the use of any public funds. Guantánamo releases therefore always require one thing: a foreign government willing to accept them. In subsequent years, congressional provisions have routinely increased the obstacles for Obama to close Guantánamo, and transfers have come to a grinding halt as the administration has not robustly exploited the little maneuvering room it has left.

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