Clemency, War Powers, and Guantánamo
Samuel E. Schoenburg
On his first day in office, President Obama called for the closure of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Near the end of Obama’s tenure, the prison remains open. This Note suggests a previously undiscussed path for the President to transfer most detainees from Guantánamo, despite congressional opposition, using a robust and exclusive executive tool: the pardon power. By granting conditional pardons to eligible Guantánamo detainees, the President could unilaterally move many to the mainland United States for continued, if limited, detention, and transfer others for repatriation elsewhere. In addressing the Guantánamo problem, this Note argues that pardons have been used and should be viewed as a crucial complement to presidential war powers. The Note concludes that granting clemency for Guantánamo detainees is not only legally defensible, but also consistent with constitutional structure, original understanding, and historical practice since the Founding.