The sputtering end of the Obama administrationâ€™s plans to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed in federal court came one day late last month in a conversation between the president and one of his top Cabinet members. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had called President Obama to inform him that he would be returning the case to the Defense Department, a decision that would mark the effective abandonment of the presidentâ€™s promise to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the call, Obama did not press Holder to find a way to resurrect the federal prosecution of Mohammed and four co-defendants, according to senior administration officials familiar with the conversation. He did not object. Instead, he called it a pragmatic decision. It was a fittingly quiet coda to the effort to close the military detention center. For more than two years, the White Houseâ€™s plans had been undermined by political miscalculations, confusion and timidity in the face of mounting congressional opposition, according to some inside the administration as well as on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the failed effort to close Guantanamo was reflective of the aspects of Obamaâ€™s leadership style that continue to distress his liberal base â€” a willingness to allow room for compromise and a passivity that at times permits opponents to set the agenda. The president answered questions about his Guantanamo policy when asked, but only once in two years, other than in a major speech at the National Archives, did he raise the issue on his own. Guantanamo was competing with other legislative priorities, particularly health care, that consumed most of the administrationâ€™s attention. â€œDuring 2009 and early 2010, he is totally engaged in the struggle to get health-care reform,â€ a White House participant said when asked about the presidentâ€™s engagement with the effort to close Guantanamo. â€œThat occupies his mind, and his time.â€ Obama has conceded that Guantanamo will not close anytime soon. â€œObviously I havenâ€™t been able to make the case right now, and without Congressâ€™s cooperation, we canâ€™t do it,â€ he said this month in an interview with the Associated Press. â€œThat doesnâ€™t mean I stop making the case.â€ Administration officials lay blame for the failed initiative on Congress, including Democrats who deserted the president, sometimes in droves. The debate, they said, became suffused with fear â€” fear that transferring detainees to American soil would create a genuine security threat, fear that closing Guantanamo would be electoral suicide. Some Democratic lawmakers pleaded with the White House not to press too hard, according to administration officials. The White House asserts it was fully engaged in the effort to close Guantanamo. â€œAny claim that the White House didnâ€™t fight to close Guantanamo is just flat wrong,â€ spokesman Tommy Vietor said. This account of the unraveling of Obamaâ€™s pledge to close Guantanamo is based on interviews with more than 30 current and former administration officials, as well as members of Congress and their staff, members of the George W. Bush administration, and activists. Many of them would speak about internal or sensitive deliberations only on the condition of anonymity. The one theme that repeatedly emerged in interviews was a belief that the White House never pressed hard enough on what was supposed to be a signature goal. Although the closure of Guantanamo Bay was announced in an executive order, which Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, the fanfare never translated into the kind of political push necessary to sustain the policy. â€œVulnerable senators werenâ€™t going out on a limb and risk being Willie Hortonized on Gitmo when the White House, with the most to lose, wasnâ€™t even twisting arms,â€ said a senior Democratic aide whose boss was one of 50 Democrats to vote in 2009 against funding to close Guantanamo. â€œThey werenâ€™t breathing down our necks pushing the vote or demanding unified action.â€ â€œThe one thing we could never figure out is who was in charge of it,â€ said a senior Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, whose boss, a senator, was initially supportive of the goal of closing Guantanamo. â€œEverybody seemed to have a piece of it, but nobody was in charge of it.â€ It was often assumed on the Hill and elsewhere that White House counsel Gregory B. Craig was in charge, but he rejected that characterization in an interview and said he was pushing the boundaries of his office to be as involved as he was. â€œThere was a real serious problem of coordination in this whole thing,â€ Craig said. â€œNo one was coordinating.â€ The White House, often without much internal deliberation, retreated time and again in the face of political opposition. â€œAt each turn, when faced with congressional opposition, the instinct was to back off, and the result was not what the White House hoped,â€ said a senior U.S. official involved in Guantanamo policy. â€œWe kept retreating, and the result was more pressure to retreat more.â€ Executive order: One year till closure On Obamaâ€™s inauguration night, when the new administration instructed military prosecutors to seek the suspension of all proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, defense lawyers at the base formed a boisterous conga line. â€œRule of law, baby!â€ they shouted. The celebrations, though, were short-lived. While the Pentagon had plans to close the detention center on the books for several years, the logistics of finding a replacement facility were difficult, to say nothing of the politics. Additionally, the legal process by which Guantanamo would be emptied presented formidable challenges. The executive order signed by Obama established a task force to review the case of every detainee â€” there were 241 when he took office â€” and recommend what should happen to them. But the issue proved highly controversial. The presidentâ€™s liberal base, as well as civil liberties groups, had long pressed for a system by which detainees would be prosecuted or transferred out, ending indefinite military detention and jettisoning military commissions in favor of federal courts, also called Article III courts. But the executive order did not rule out military commissions. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately wondered about â€œambiguities . . . regarding the treatment of certain detainees that could either be the result of the swiftness with which these orders were issued or ambivalence within the Obama administration.â€ Indeed, within the administration, which had held extensive discussions during the transition with Bush administration officials about Guantanamo, there was uncertainty about the possible need for continued use of military detention or military commissions. But what the administration took as something of a certainty was that there was bipartisan support to close Guantanamo. Bush, after all, had expressed a desire to close Guantanamo. And Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican candidate for president, spoke during the 2008 campaign about closing the detention center in Cuba and moving the detainees to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Just before Obamaâ€™s inauguration, Craig briefed senior congressional leaders, including then-House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), on the incoming presidentâ€™s plans. â€œThere were good questions, and I thought I answered the questions pretty well,â€ Craig said. â€œI felt comfortable.â€ Under Obamaâ€™s executive order, the administration had one year to close Guantanamo. Hitting a roadblock in Northern Virginia The first concrete step toward closing the detention center was agreed upon during an April 14, 2009, session at the White House. It was to be a stealth move. With chief of staff Rahm Emanuel at the helm of the meeting, senior national security officials agreed that eight of the 17 Uighurs being held at the off-shore facility would be resettled in the United States, most in Virginia. The Chinese Muslims would be brought in two at a time; the first two to come were chosen, in part, because they could speak reasonably good English and were likely to make a good impression given the intense media attention they probably would draw. The transfer seemed like an uncontroversial move. The Bush administration had concluded that the Uighurs, although accused of separatist activities by Beijing, were not enemies of the United States, and a federal judge had ordered their release the previous October. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had expressed some qualms about being able to monitor them fully in the United States, but those were quickly overcome. Within the administration, the transfer was seen as critical to efforts to persuade European and other governments to resettle Guantanamo detainees. Indeed, some European governments, including Germany, said they wanted to see at least a symbolic resettlement in the United States before they would accept detainees.