During today’s speech on national security, President Barack Obama wanted to make one thing clear about Guantanamo Bay – that all the problems associated with it aren’t his fault. Yet while he claimed he was still determined to close the facility, his comments created more questions than they answered.
Obama’s speech was in many ways one of contrast, condemning the detention facility and the dubious legal system surrounding it as having imperiled national security, while at the same time lauding the concept of military tribunals as “appropriate.” He ordered the tribunals halted as one of his first acts in office, only to announce their renewal last week. Today he insists that he has supported military commissions from the beginning.
He also lashed out at opponents who claimed he might release dangerous people from the facility. His defense appeared to confirm last week’s report that he is planning to hold some of the detainees indefinitely and without trial, even if he lacks the evidence to charge them with any crimes. He pledged to create a legal basis through which those detentions could continue with “periodic review.” Actually what would possibly be reviewed without evidence is unclear.
President Obama appeared to be defensive about the whole issue of releasing detainees, insisting that most of the 21 detainees ordered released had those orders passed down before he was sworn into office, and that it wasn’t up to him whether or not to release them.
In the end he insisted he was still determined to close the detention facility, though yesterday his spokesman agreed with the Senate on pulling the funding to do so pending more information about the method of the closing, and today’s speech was very much broad brush generalities with few such details. The president initially pledged to close the facility in 12 months, and four months later that goal appears farther away than ever. Whether the closure ever actually takes place remains to be seen, but the administration at least seems determined to enjoy the luxury of promising to close it until the deadline runs out.
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