In a press conference April 30, President Obama pledged to renew his efforts to close Guantanamo Bay.
“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 a normal, conventional fashion. I understand that reaction. But we’re now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists.”
Guantanamo was central to the President’s 2008 election campaign; the prison is known for the indefinite detention of alleged terror suspects and torturous interrogation methods such as waterboarding. These practices and the facility itself epitomize the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ – suspects are deported from the U.S. to nations with more lenient torture laws for intense interrogations.
Read the President’s remarks:
Bill Plante: Mr. President, as you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike on 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?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
Q — can do it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, 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 reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people. And it’s not sustainable.
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 Qaeda 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 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 Meanwhile we continue to force-feed these folks –
THE PRESIDENT: 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? We’ve got a whole bunch of individuals who have been tried who are currently in maximum security prisons around the country. Nothing has 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 individual who attempted to bomb Times Square — in prison, serving a life sentence. The individual who tried to bomb a plane in Detroit — in prison, serving a life sentence. A Somali who was part of Al-Shabaab, 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 a normal, conventional fashion. I understand that reaction. But we’re now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists.
And this is a lingering 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 said before, 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 folks over there who care about fighting terrorism but also care about who we are as a people to step up and help me on it….