Obama Sketches Out Plans for Gitmo Prisoners

Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:23am

President Barack Obama said Thursday his administration will transfer some Guantánamo Bay detainees to U.S. federal prisons, asserting that the facilities are secure and noting that convicted terrorists are already housed there.

Obama, who spoke at the National Archives, said the cases of all the Guantánamo Bay inmates are being reviewed, and some will stand trial in the United States. But he sought to assure the public that no bad actors will be set loose within the country. “We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people,— he said.

Republicans were swift to condemn the decision to bring some of the inmates to the United States. “The American people expect the United States to keep terrorists where they belong — apart from civilized society and outside of America’s borders,— House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said in a statement released after Obama’s speech. “Furthermore, allowing terrorists to enter the prison system could, as the FBI director warned yesterday, lead to a radicalized inmate population.—

The president offered a comprehensive rationale for his approach to prisoners detained in the struggle against terrorism, saying that the country must return to a values-based strategy that he suggested was ignored by President George W. Bush. The former constitutional law professor repeatedly emphasized the need to operate under “the rule of law— when confronting the perils that face the United States.

“I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values,— Obama said. “Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset,— he said.

But Cantor charged that Obama was merely playing politics with national security. “The President is confronted with the choice of continuing the policy of the previous administration which alienates some of his supporters, or siding with the majority of Americans,— he said. “When it comes to the safety of our nation and her people, we must always put substance above politics.—

Obama asserted that Bush’s turn toward harsh interrogation techniques and use of the Guantánamo Bay facility harmed the nation’s security by galvanizing U.S. enemies and serving as a tool for recruitment of terrorists. He affirmed that, despite the decision by the Senate to withhold funding for closing Gitmo, the prison will indeed be shuttered. “By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it,— Obama said, calling the prison and the legal challenges that attend the incarceration of its inmates “a mess.—

Nevertheless, Obama sought to justify his decision to continue to try some detainees by military commissions, saying he would act to remedy flaws in the commissions that he believes existed under Bush. Other prisoners will be moved “safely— to other countries, he said, revealing that 50 inmates have been approved for transfer.

Obama said some detainees who cannot be prosecuted for specific crimes but who clearly still represent a threat do in fact remain “at war with the United States— and will continue to be held under a new system that the administration plans to develop with the help of Congress. He said such cases must be subject to periodic review and that the system must be overseen by Congress and the courts.

Obama also addressed his opposition to a commission to investigate the conduct of Bush officials in waging the war on terror, saying illegalities could be ferreted out by Congress and the Justice Department. And he said he opposed releasing photos of Bush-era interrogations because it would serve little purpose other than to inflame anger at U.S. troops, endangering soldiers in the field.