Obama Defends Decision To Close Guantanamo
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's hear more now about President Obama's speech this morning. He defended a decision to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He described the situation there as, quote, "a mess, a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges."
The president himself received a verbal challenge just minutes after he spoke, and NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is here to talk us through what happened. He's with us live.
Scott, good morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: We've heard a lot this morning about the dramatic and symbolic scene. The president spoke with the Constitution at his back. But let's talk for a moment about the substance. Did he say anything more about how he actually plans to succeed in closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that's at the center of the debate?
HORSLEY: Well, he acknowledged that it wouldn't be easy, but he said that it could be done. And he repeated what would be done with some of the detainees there. Some would be tried in civilian courts, he said. Some would be tried in military tribunals. Some would be released to other countries.
And there was a group, he said, that might have to be held indefinitely, and suggested that, you know, there are supermax prisons on U.S. soil that are perfectly capable of holding dangerous terrorists.
INSKEEP: He can say that they're capable of that, but he knows that Congress has been voting overwhelmingly against that, at least in the short term.
HORSLEY: That's right. He addressed his critics in Congress who dealt him a setback this week, pulling the funding for closing Guantanamo. And he basically said, look, remember when I announced the decision to close Guantanamo? It was applauded by both Democrats and Republicans. Since then, there has been a lot of fear-mongering, he suggested. People didn't want detainees winding up in the backyards of their own home districts. He said don't give in to the 30-second commercials. Don't give in to fear-mongering. That will only lead to more mistakes. He basically asked Congress to show a little political courage.
INSKEEP: Sounds like his purpose here was not so much to make news or break new ground as to defend the ground he's already trying to break.
HORSLEY: That's right. He has had to make some ad hoc decisions along the way. And this was sort of an opportunity for him to provide a broader framework for all of those decisions and to respond to his critics both on the left and on the right.
To his critics on the left who are upset about his decision, for example, to withhold the photos of detainee mistreatment, he said, look, it's a balancing act. It's not, you know, all about transparency. I have to weigh security too.
To his critics on the right, he said, look, we don't have to sacrifice our values. And that's not just a matter of idealism.
INSKEEP: And let's listen to what the president had to say, a little bit of it.
President BARACK OBAMA: We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and it keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset - in war and peace, in times of ease and in eras of upheaval.
INSKEEP: That's President Obama earlier today. And shortly afterward, also in Washington, D.C., former Vice President Dick Cheney responded.
Vice President DICK CHENEY: When President Obama makes wise decisions, as I believe he has done in some respects on Afghanistan and in reversing his plan to release incendiary photos, he deserves our support. And when he faults or mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer.
INSKEEP: Okay, Scott Horsley, how wide is the gulf between those two men?
HORSLEY: Well, it's very wide. And the president has said, look, I don't want to waste our time re-fighting the battles of the last eight years. But it seems obvious that former Vice President Cheney is very much intent on doing that.
One thing Mr. Obama did say today was, remember, in November we had an election, and even though John McCain and I didn't agree on a whole lot of things, we both agreed that it was time to close Guantanamo, it was time to ban torture. So he's arguing the tactics of the last eight years have been repudiated.
INSKEEP: Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. He's telling us about dueling speeches today between President Obama and former Vice President Cheney.
This is NPR News.
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