Thursday, May 21, 2009

GITMO And Transparency

Today President Obama delivered a speech on National Security. Here is the video.

Here are what I thought were the high points of the speech.

First President Obama led of the speech by going through all of the measures he has initiated since assuming office that helps our national security including redirecting resources to the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, investing in 21st century technology to help with intelligence, working on nuclear non proliferation that will attempt to track down all "loose nukes" within the next four years, protecting the border, renewing alliances in the war on terror and renewed diplomacy. He said our fundamental values are what help keep us safe and that the founding documents of our country are what we need to cling to in our search for liberty and justice. He made the point that we can't turn our back on those values just for expediency sake.

He made the point that in the past WE were the ones who shut down torture chambers from all over the world.

He made the point that post 9-11 we had to come up with new tools in order to prevent attacks along with prosecuting them after they had been committed or attempted.

He said in the past (see during the Bush Administration) we made national security decisions out of fear rather than facts for expediency's sake.

"We went off course"

Obama made the point that both he and Senator John McCain called for the closing of GITMO and the voters in both parties made them their general election candidates which indicates they agree.

The President before he came into office we were working with an ad hoc legal approach to fight terrorism which was neither effective nor sustainable.

I liked that President Obama used the phrasing "so called" in reference to EITs which most of us know is just a euphemism for torture.

President Obama said HE is the one who sees all of the intelligence and he categorically rejects the notion that waterboarding was or is the most effective method of gaining information and that it undermines the rule of law, is a recruitment tool for terrorists, increases the will of our enemies who will no longer surrender because they believe we will torture them, puts our troops' lives in danger, and did not advance our war on terror.

He made note of the fact that Senator McCain has also spoken out about the propaganda value of torture for terrorists trying to recruit more people into their ranks.

Obama shifted to closing GITMO. He talked about the fact that the Military Commisions have only convicted 3 detainees in 7 years.

The President pointed out that in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the Military Court system.

He points out that the whole premise of opening GITMO was to put detainees somewhere that the Bush Administration felt they could hold them beyond the law and that the Supreme court rejected that notion.

He says GITMO itself helped to weaken our National Security.

President Obama asserts that the costs of keeping GITMO open far exceed any complications from closing it.

Obama also pointed out that he was cleaning up a mess that he hadn't created.

He says the problems that exists aren't from GITMO closing, they are from GITMO opening in the first place.

He refuses to pass this problem off to the next President.

He calls out those who have politicized the issue of closing GITMO with fear mongering. He said that those who would do this are using their words to scare people rather than solve the problem.

Unequivical statement that he will not release anyone who threatens national security and or the American people.

He points out that some detainees will end up in SuperMax prisons where nobody has ever escaped in the history of this country.

He references a statement from Senator Lindsey Graham where he said the notion that we couldn't handle these detainees in American jails is ridiculous.

President Obama put detainees into 5 categories.

1. Those that will be tried in federal courts. Points out we have tried many terrorists in federal courts for a long time.

2. Those who have violated the laws of war will be tried into the military commisions courts which have been a tradition in this country. He points out that this is not a reversal of his position and that in 2006 he wanted reform of the military commission that did not happen but he didn't reject the institution outright. He further stated that he will put in the reforms now that he called for then to make them compliant.

3. Those who have been ordered released by the courts of which there are 21 people who fall into that category now. 19 of those 21 were ordered released before he got into office. Because we are a nation of laws he has to respect the courts' decisions.

4. Those who can be tranferred to another country. Fifty people so far fit into that category.

5. Those who can't be prosecuted but also can't be released because they are dangerous. He says he will exhaust all legal avenues to insure they never get out.

President Obama acknowledges the political difficulties of closing GITMO. He references fear mongering 30 second Tee Vee ads and direct mailings. But he says we can't govern out of fear and the American people want him to get it right, not political posturing.

Then President Obama shifted to Security and Transparency. He contrasted his decision to release the 4 OLC memos recently with his decision to block the release of the torture photos. Makes the case that sometimes its appropriate to keep some things secret if members of the military's lives are at stake.

But he says that he will insist on oversight from both the Congress and Judicial branches of government. He says someone must always watch over the watchers.

He is concerned about overuse of the states secrets doctrine but has to be used at times.

He says he will not hold back information from the public just because it reveals an illegal act or something that is embarrassing.

He wants a stricter legal test for invoking states secrets.

Obama once again says he will focus on bringing more oversight from "co equal" branches of government.

He then talks about how some people still want to relitigate debates they have lost. IE Dick Cheney still advocating torture.

He is more interested in the Congress and DOJ investigating wrong doing from the Bush Administration than an independent commission.

President Obama talks about the two differing sides on torture on the extremes. On the left those who think we should reveal even our most important intelligence secrets. On the right there are those who, in President Obama's words, think "anything goes". Those who think the President can do whatever they want provided its a President they agree with. He says both sides in that debate are wrong.

Maybe the strongest part of the speech was the ending where President Obama said national security has to be an issue that brings us together not something that divides us. He talks about how some people (*cough*Republicans*cough) try to use national security as a wedge issue. But this is a time for the American people to come together to insure all of our safety.

I thought the speech while not necessarily strong on details of how he will ultimately deal with GITMO was pitch perfect for the American people and what a lot of people in the middle needed to hear from them. We simply can not allow fearmongering to take hold again in this country when we are talking about the serious task of keeping us all safe.

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