It was one of Barack Obama’s marquee campaign promises in 2008: Close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which would erase a terrorist recruiting tool and a black spot on America’s human rights record.
Hours after his inauguration in 2009 Mr. Obama halted all commission trials at the detention facility for suspected terrorists, and then two days later, on Jan. 22, he signed an executive order committing to close the prison.
But as he took the oath of office Sunday in a private ceremony at the White House, 166 detainees remain at the prison — officially named Camp Delta — and his failure to close it has become emblematic of a first term in which his major successes were matched by some of his failures, particularly where he ran into bipartisan opposition in Congress.
It’s not for lack of a public commitment that the camp remains open. Mr. Obama repeatedly says he still wants to shut it down and has threatened to veto bills that curtail his authority to do so.
Still, he has not put muscle behind those threats and signed the latest defense policy bill this month that extends a ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. and makes it tougher to send them to other countries.
Human rights groups said that signature makes it difficult for him to close the prison before his second term is complete.
“The problem that the president has is as long as he hangs on to some of these policies — military commissions and indefinite detention — he’s not going to be able to close Guantanamo,” said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Four years seems like a long time, but the process of closing is going to be at this point a couple-year process.”