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Obama Defends Decision to Close Guantanamo Prison

By VOA News
21 May 2009

Al-Qaida actively planning to attack US

U.S. President Barack Obama says al-Qaida is actively planning to attack the United States again.

In a speech in Washington Thursday, Mr Obama said these are "extraordinary times" for the country, fighting two wars and facing a range of challenges. He said his single most important responsibility as president is to keep the American people safe.

The president said the U.S. must use all its elements of power to defeat the threat posed by al-Qaida terrorists, and he added that steps have already been taken to ensure the country is secure.

Addressing an audience of senior Cabinet officials and members of Congress, Mr. Obama said these steps include providing the necessary resources to fight the extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and investing in military and intelligence capabilities. He also said his administration has "re-energized" a global effort to curb proliferation of nuclear weapons - in the president's words, "to deny the world's most dangerous people access to the world's deadliest weapons."

Mr. Obama said all "loose" nuclear materials in the world should be secure within four years.

He said the United States is better protecting its borders and increasing its preparedness for any future attacks or natural disasters. The United States is building new partnerships around the world, the president said, "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates."

Mr. Obama said the United States has renewed American diplomacy, so that the U.S. once again has the "strength and standing to truly lead the world."

Obama defends decision to close Guantanamo prison

President Obama has defended his decision to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the facility set back the moral authority of the United States.

Although hundreds of people have been detained at Guantanamo during the past seven years, Mr. Obama said, the military commissions set up to try those detainees have handled only three cases.

Continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo has "weakened" U.S. national security, according to Mr. Obama, who announced his intention to transfer some of those held in Cuba to so-called "supermax" prisons - ultra-secure detention facilities - in the United States.

The president's plan to close Guantanamo by January of next year has attracted widespread criticism in the United States from those who oppose the transfer of dangerous suspects to U.S. states.

Mr. Obama pledged that his administration will not release anyone who would endanger U.S. national security or the American people.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has sharply criticized Mr. Obama's policies on Guantanamo and other issues, also is speaking out on national-security issues Thursday.

Mr. Obama says the Guantanamo detention camp has been an obstacle to getting allies to cooperate with the United States in fighting worldwide extremism.

He described the prison as a "mess" and said it was a "misguided experiment" begun by the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama said all pending cases at Guantanamo will be reviewed.

US Must Not Abandon Principles

President Obama has said that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States entered a new era, in which enemies did not abide by any laws of war and presented new challenges to the application of U.S. law.

Mr. Obama said the government needs new tools to protect the American people, prevent terrorist attacks and prosecute those who carry them out.

He said that faced with an uncertain threat to the United States after the September 11 attacks, the government made a series of hasty decisions in an effort to protect Americans, and did so based on fear rather than foresight.

He said the U.S. cannot afford to set aside its principles, something he accused both Democrats and Republicans of doing.

President Obama called on both parties to take a new approach, rejecting torture and recognizing the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The president said the United States needs to update its institutions to deal with the threat of extremism, but must do so within the the rule of law and with due process, checks and balances and accountability.

President Obama said the legal approach for fighting terrorism over the last eight years was neither effective nor sustainable, and failed to adhere to America's values.

Mr. Obama said that is why he chose to ban so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as water-boarding. He said he rejects the assertion that such methods are the most effective means of interrogation.

He said they undermine the law, alienate the U.S. internationally, and increase the enemies' will to fight.

Some detainees to be tried in US federal courts

President Obama says whenever feasible, detainees at Guantanamo who have violated American criminal laws will be tried in American federal courts.

Mr. Obama noted that terrorists including Zaccarias Moussaoui, identified as the 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks, was convicted in a U.S. court and is serving a life prison sentence.

He said detainees who violate the laws of war will be tried through military commissions, saying such panels have a history in the United States dating back to the first U.S. president and the Revolutionary War.

The president said his administration is bring the commissions in line with the rule of law, instead of using what he called the same "flawed" commissions of the last seven years.

Many challenges remain before closure of prison

President Obama says there are detainees at Guantanamo who in effect "remain at war" with the United States.

He acknowledged challenges in closing the facility, and said his goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantanamo detainees.

He said the toughest decision on the closure is what to do with detainees who cannot be prosecuted but yet pose what he called a "clear danger" to the American people.

The president said if the U.S. determines it must hold someone indefinitely to prevent a terror attack, then it must be done with a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.

Review of state secret doctrine nears completion

President Obama says his administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of the state secret doctrine.

Mr. Obama noted the doctrine has been used for many decades by presidents to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. He said the practice is "absolutely necessary" to protect national security, but he is concerned that it has been overused.

He said governments must not protect information merely because it reveals violations of the law or embarrasses the government.

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