Tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which Obama signed on New Year's Eve, are provisions that appear to allow indefinite military detention of American terrorism suspects, and to require it of suspected foreign enemies. The Obama administration insists the law merely codifies existing standards, but its strong supporters and vehement opponents are sure it does much more, legally enshrining for the first time in 60 years the authority to hold citizens without trial.
An executive order issued by President Obama called for Attorney General Eric Holder to purchase the nearly vacant prison and for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to "prepare the [prison] for secure housing of detainees currently held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who have been or will be designated for relocation, and shall relocate such detainees to the [prison], consistent with laws related to Guantanamo detainees."
And in supporting these ideals, it's also important that we uphold them ourselves. And that's why I take the last speaker's admonition as a useful reminder -- that what we do matters, in part because although we know that sometimes we'll fall short of our ideals, when we do -- they can be an excuse for others. Our journey to perfect our union goes on to this day. And that's why I did order the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and I did ban torture -- without equivocation and without exception.
President Obama has signed a bill into law that will severely limit his ability to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama says he chose not to veto the defense authorization bill because of the important military funding it contains. But the bill also contains a poison pill for the president's efforts to close Guantanamo: Congress restricted the executive branch from using taxpayer money to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States or transfer them to foreign countries. Obama says that "undermines our nation's counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security." In a signing statement, he registered his strong objections to the bill's Guantanamo provisions.
President Obama in March 2011 reversed his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantánamo, permitting military trials to resume with revamped procedures and implicitly admitting the failure of his pledge to close the prison camp. Mr. Obama said that he remained committed to closing Guantánamo someday and to charging some terrorism suspects in civilian criminal courts. But Congress blocked the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo to the United States for trial, frustrating the administration’s plan to hold civilian trials for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed chief plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, and others accused of terrorism.
President Obama began his presidency with a promise to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year. Almost two years later, Guantanamo is still open, and last week the president signed a defense authorization bill that would prevent the administration from using taxpayer funds to transfer terror suspects to the United States for trial. The United States government says many of the more than 170 men still at Guantanamo are too dangerous to release, but can't be prosecuted either, which leaves an option to establish rules for them that amount to indefinite detention without trial.
In Jan. 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, President Obama signed executive orders effectively ending the Central Intelligence Agency‘s secret interrogation program, directing the closing of the detention camp within a year and setting up a sweeping, high-level review of the best way to hold and question terrorist suspects in the future. The move put a halt to the Bush administration’s military commissions system for prosecuting detainees.
“From the beginning of my Administration, the United States has worked to bring terrorists to justice consistent with our commitment to protect the American people and uphold our values. Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees. I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system – including Article III Courts – to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened. Going forward, all branches of government have a responsibility to come together to forge a strong and durable approach to defend our nation and the values that define who we are as a nation.”
In a speech nearly two years ago at the National Archives, the President advanced a four-part approach to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, keeping our country safe, and upholding the law: (1) to bring detainees to justice in prosecutions in either federal civilian courts or in reformed military commissions, (2) to comply with court-ordered releases of detainees, (3) to transfer detainees from Guantanamo whenever it is possible to do so safely and humanely, and (4) when neither prosecution nor other legal options are available, to hold these individuals in lawful military detention. He affirmed that “whenever feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts.”
The Administration remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and to maintain a lawful, sustainable and principled regime for the handling of detainees there, consistent with the full range of U.S. national security interests.