Obama is giving his speech now on the issue of terrorist detention policy and the closing of Gitmo. I’ll leave it to others to parse all aspects of the speech, although it is clear that the overriding theme is: “It’s not my fault, blame Bush.” As if no other President in history inherited problems from his predecessor.
One headline worthy aspect of the speech, however, is that Obama signalled that he would continue to detain indefinitely those detainees who could not be tried either in court or in a military tribunal or transferred to another country, but who pose a threat to the United States. As examples, Obama cited those who have pledged allegiance to al–Qaeda, or undergone explosives training.
In other words, while Obama argues over the details of the Bush detention policies, Obama accepts the core principle that the United States has the right to detain enemy combatants who threaten the United States without subjecting that detention to domestic judicial review.
While we may quibble over the details of detention, this aspect of the speech reflects a mature assessment of national security which was lacking from campaign rhetoric, and stands starkly at odds with much of Obama’s base of support.
Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.
I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.
As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.