Campaign coverage swamps Gitmo news

When President Obama offered a nine-page plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday, he was met with political outrage — and media clearly distracted by the campaign to choose his successor.

On this day, at least, Guantanamo was captive to the latest news of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Even Spike Lee endorsing Sanders seemed to get more traction within several hours.

For sure, Guantanamo may go down in history as one of the most unseemly American actions ever — morally corrosive and, as Obama and others maintain, a recruiting spur for terrorists. But, for now, it clearly takes a backseat to the campaign, generating scant public attention and fleeting interest by the press.

On CNN, one found solid initial discussion of the move but the omnipresent graphic reminders in the bottom right corner when it comes to the overriding coverage priorities: "CNN Republican President Debate 2 Days" and "Democratic Presidential Town Hall 6:30:14."

"SUPER TUESDAY ROAD TRIP STARTING TOMORROW AT 1 P.M." flashed MSNBC with a giant image of reporter-anchor Chris Jansing, who plans to hit seven states in seven days.

Over at Fox News, the hard-to-avoid boxes reminded: "4 days to SC Democratic Primary," "7 Days to Super Tuesday," "Nevada Caucus Doors Close 10 H 28 M 22 S."

But there was some discussion of a very sober subject, which in the aftermath included a firm grasp of the obvious: Obama will get nowhere in Congress in changing relevant laws and closing the prison.

"The politics are tough," said CNN's ever-reliable Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. The Defense Department is not likely to spend money to transfer detainees to the U.S., which is prohibited by law now, anyway. And it maintains that some sort of new facility to hold them would have to be built in the U.S., which underscores the confounding essence of the whole matter, given how much space there is readily available in existing federal facilities.

Other graphics underscored the melancholy realities that exist 15 years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, which inspired the prison. Those include 34 men cleared for transfer to another country, 10 expected to at some point undergo military tribunals and 47 others who could now be sent home or to another country. In all, CNN and the others underscored, more than 700 detainees have been held since it opened in 2002, with at least seven dying while in custody.

"While they may have more rights on paper," attorney David Remes told CNN host Ashleigh Banfield, "no judge will release them into the general population of the United States..." Banfield herself interjected how she had "a hard time wrapping my head around a trial for these guys," given how old some of the evidence would tend to be.

On MSNBC Andrea Mitchell beckoned Clifford Sloan, a former special Obama envoy on Guantanamo, who underscored several of the Kafkaesque legal realities facing detainees.

Those include lawyers for 12 of them saying that if they could just get to a federal court in the U.S., their clients would plead guilt to some offense. But due to the congressional ban on coming here, they can't even do that. In addition, the way the military tribunals work, they are precluded from similarly copping a plea.

But, not too much later, there was the image of Spike Lee on a new radio ad for Sanders on MSNBC, with CNN welcoming a comedian to give his take on the endorsement (not to forget actress Kerry Washington coming out for Clinton).

It was all part and parcel of the further difficulty Obama will have piercing the public consciousness during an election year with his remedy for the legal mess he inherited from the Bush administration.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Ashleigh Banfield's first name.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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