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Obama’s Deluded Remarks Ignore His Role in Keeping Prisoners at Guantanamo

Screen shot from President Obama’s press conference on C-SPAN

There are steps President Barack Obama could take right now to expedite the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison camps, where prisoners currently engaged in a major hunger strike continue to be held in detention. Yet, Obama and his defenders insist Congress is solely responsible for why the prison continues to be open and why prisoners cleared for release have not been freed.

During a press conference, Obama was asked about the ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo by a CBS News reporter, who properly hinted at the macabre reality of their continued detention.

Here’s the full exchange transcribed from this video:

REPORTER: There’s a growing hunger strike at 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?

OBAMA: Well, 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 got to close Guantanamo. 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 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 am going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that is currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively and I am going to re-engage with Congress to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people. And, it’s not sustainable.

I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 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 trans-national terrorist networks, when we transfer 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. That 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 is 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 is important.

REPORTER: Are you going to continue to force feed these folks?

OBAMA: I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best they can. 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’s happened to them. Justice has been served. It’s been done in a way that is consistent with the Constitution, consistent with due process, consistent with the rule of law, consistent with our traditions.

The individual who attempted to bomb Times Square—in prison serving a life sentence. Individual who tried to blow up a plane on the way to 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 in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 with the immediate trauma 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. 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.

First, the decision to transport captured individuals in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) to Guantanamo did not happen because of some popular fear or anxiety amongst Americans after 9/11. That may have insulated the administration of President George W. Bush from immediate criticism, but, as Mark Mazzetti shows in his book, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth, it was torture tapes destroyer and torture advocate, former CIA Counterterrorism Center head, Jose Rodriguez, who suggested holding individuals at Guantanamo Bay.

During a CIA meeting, where Rodriguez and then-director George Tenet were present:

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."