I heard it again on the Today Show this morning: Two days into his presidency, by Executive Order, President Barack Obama called for closing Guantanamo but was blocked by Congress at every turn.
Essentially, a segment of mainstream media in their lazy journalism (or liberal bias) is merely adopting the excuse and language used by President Obama in his press conference yesterday.
Time Swampland headline: President Obama Sides With His Guantanamo Bay Protesters
CBS News headline writes “Obama: Guantanamo Must Close”
The Guardian headline: Guantánamo ‘not in the best interests of the American people’, says Obama
USA Today headlines Obama: We need to close Guantanamo Bay
LATimes writes Obama renews call to close Guantanamo prison
Amusing headline at ABC News today, reporting the AP: Guantanamo Strike Still on Despite New Obama Vow Really?! You mean to say President Obama’s awe-inspiring vow renewal didn’t inspire the detainees to buy into the bull-rhetoric and end their hunger strike?
But not everyone in the liberal side of the press is blind to his silvered-tongue demagoguery of the issue.
We were pleased that Mr. Obama pledged to make good, finally, on his promise to do just that. But that reaction was tempered by the fact that he has failed to do so for five years and that he has not taken steps within his executive power to transfer prisoners long ago cleared for release. Mr. Obama’s plans to try to talk Congress into removing obstacles to closing the prison do not reflect the urgency of the crisis facing him now.
In wake of recent problems at Guantanamo and news of the detainee hunger strike finally making its way into the public mainstream consciousness, President Obama was made to address the issue:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bill Plante.
Q: Mr. President, as you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, among prisoners there. Is it any surprise, really, that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantanamo, which is why, when I was campaigning in 2007 and 2008 and when I was elected in 2008, I said we need to close Guantanamo.
I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo. I think — well, you know, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.
Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country.
I’m going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I’m going to re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people.
And it’s not sustainable. I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al-Qaida core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried — that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.
Now, it’s a hard case to make because, you know, I think for a lot of Americans, the notion is out of sight, out of mind, and it’s easy to demagogue the issue. That’s what happened the first time this came up. I’m going to go back at it because I think it’s important.
Q: (Off mic) — continue to force-feed these folks — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I don’t — I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this. Why are we doing this?
I mean, we’ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country. Nothing’s happened to them. Justice has been served. It’s been done in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution, consistent with due process, consistent with rule of law, consistent with our traditions. The — the individual who attempted to bomb Times Square — in prison serving a life sentence. Individual who tried to bomb a plane in Detroit — in prison serving a life sentence. A Somali who was part of al-Shahab (sic) who we captured — in prison.
So we can handle this. And I understand that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with the traumas that had taken place, why, for a lot of Americans, the notion was somehow that we had to create a special facility like Guantanamo, and we couldn’t handle this in — in a normal, conventional fashion. I understand that reaction.
But we’re not over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience at — in how we prosecute terrorists. And this is a lingering, you know, problem that is not going to get better. It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.
And so I’m going to — as I’ve said before, we’re — examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we’re also going to need some help from Congress. And I’m going to ask some — some folks over there who, you know, care about fighting terrorism but also care about who we are as a people to — to step up and — and help me on it.
It’s Congress’s fault. It’s Bush’s fault.
The parts of the transcript that were emboldened comes from Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare Blog who sees right through the “Era of Transparency” president:
The President’s comments are bewildering because his own policies give rise to the vast majority of the concerns about which he so earnestly delivered himself in these remarks.
Remember that Obama himself has imposed a moratorium on repatriating people to Yemen. And Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.
True, he would hold such people in a domestic facility, rather than at Guantanamo Bay. But so what? does the President not understand when he frets about “the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity” that if Congress let him do exactly as he wished, he would still be doing exactly that—except that the number might not reach 100 and the location would not be at Guantanamo? Does he not understand his own policy proposals—to maintain a residual group of detainees indefinitely—when he worries that “When we transfer detention authority in Afghanistan, the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests and it needs to stop”? Does he not understand when he intones that we are wiser now than we were after 9/11 and no longer need a site like Guantanamo to hold non-criminal terrorist detainees that he is proposing to build a new one?
Pardon me, but I don’t get it.
In a follow up post, Wittes mentions Glenn Greenwald emailed that he was in agreement:
So glad you wrote this—it’s been driving me crazy forever:
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 30, 2013
Even though you’re writing it with a different motive than I have (I think you’re mad that Obama is slamming a policy you believe in—indefinite detention—and then are quite rightly pointing out that he shouldn’t be doing so since he supports such a policy), the key point is constantly ignored: before Congress did anything, Obama’s plan was simply to move Guantanamo, not close it, and keep its defining system of indefinite detention.
I just don’t know how to get people to understand this. They’ve been told so often that Obama tried to close Gitmo but Congress stopped him that they can’t realize that, though narrowly true, it’s extremely misleading.
Obama is unwilling to give up the benefits of Guantanamo—the ability to detain enemy fighters and leaders outside of the criminal justice system—but he wants nonetheless to partake of the rhetoric of its delegitimization. I believe in detention in some circumstances, but I also think we need to be honest about what those circumstances are and what makes detention legitimate within them; those of us who believe in detention need to be up front about where we differ from people like Greenwald, who reject it on principle. For Obama to talk in the language of the ACLU when what he means is that he wishes to hold fewer people than are now at Guantanamo and to do so at Location B, rather than at Location A, is profoundly dishonest—and more importantly, it has the effect of delegitimizing a policy to which Obama is, in fact, committed.
And my favorite line from his post:
I respect Greenwald’s right to dissent from Obama administration policies. I do not respect Obama’s right to dissent from his own administration’s policies.
Remember that the previous administration had also sought avenues for closing Gitmo.
If Obama had meant that he wants to bring to an end detention—which is legitimate as long as hostilities continue—as he brings hostilities to a close, he could have said as much very simply. He didn’t need to go on a rant about how much we had learned about how to handle terrorists over the last ten years. He didn’t need to wring his hands about how much damage Guantanamo does to America’s image. He could simply have stated that detention under the laws of war is proper as long as hostilities continue, that he hopes to bring hostilities to a close in short order, that releases will be inevitable at that point, and that Congress should give him more flexibility with respect to transfers now. Instead, he described himself as fighting against a policy he has, in fact, adopted.