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Defiant Obama slams Bush Guantanamo 'mess'
Fri, May 22, 2009
AFP

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has vowed no retreat on closing Guantanamo Bay, branding the prison a "mess" and charging that Bush-era anti-terror tactics were rooted in fear and ideology.

Obama also raised the prospect of holding the most dangerous Al-Qaeda detainees indefinitely in US "super-max" jails, during a speech Thursday designed to recapture the initiative in a row over his national security policies.

Hours after he spoke, the US Senate approved a 91.3-billion-dollar 2009 budget supplemental to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through October 1 " but without funds to close the prison camp at the US naval base in Cuba,
after days of acrimonious debate.

"The terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies - and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are," Obama said at the National Archives, where the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence documents are held.

Obama will also return to the national security theme Friday when he delivers the commencement speech at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

On Thursday, Obama and former vice president Dick Cheney traded verbal blows on the issue.

The president took on critics on the right who believe "anything goes" in the fight against terrorism, and rebuked allies on the left whom he said believed that in all cases transparency should triumph over national security.

Minutes later, Cheney forcibly defended former president George W. Bush's policies in his own nationally-televised speech.

Obama insisted he had been right to order the closure of the controversial "war on terror" prison by January 2010, saying it had stained the US image abroad.

"By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it," he said.

"We are cleaning up something that is quite simply a mess, a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges."

But Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, vehemently justified the Bush approach, including harsh CIA interrogations derided by critics as torture and setting up Guantanamo outside the US legal framework.

He said he would "do so again in the same circumstances," while warning the Obama administration against launching a witchhunt targeting former Bush aides and CIA investigators. Obama added pointedly: "Some Americans are angry, others want to refight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November."

Obama also rejected Bush administration tactics adopted after the September 11 attacks in 2001, saying they were the result of "fear rather than foresight."

"All too often, our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions," he added. The president said his administration may seek to transfer some of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay to top security jails in the United States.

The step is highly unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with the Senate voting Wednesday to forbid transferring to US soil any of the 240 detainees held at Guantanamo.

"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," Obama said.

For the first time, the president publicly acknowledged that some Guantanamo detainees would be held indefinitely without trial.

He also rebuked the notion, popular with many Democrats, that an independent truth commission should probe Bush era anti-terror abuses.

"I have opposed the creation of such a commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability," Obama said

 

 
 
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