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Obama Details Strategy on Gitmo Detainees

BY Admin  May 21, 2009 at 12:10 PM EST

President Barack Obama; AFP/Getty Images

During a speech at the National Archives billed as a major address on national security, President Obama conceded that some would end up in U.S. prisons and insisted those facilities were tough enough to house even the most dangerous inmates.

Listen to President Obama’s speech:

Click here to read the transcript of his speech.

“There are no neat or easy answers here,” Mr. Obama said in a speech in which he pledged to “clean up the mess at Guantanamo.”

The president also said opening and continuing the military prison “set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world.”

“I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo,” Mr. Obama said. “As president, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. Our security interests won’t permit it. Our courts won’t allow it. And neither should our conscience.”

Speaking in front of a copy of the Constitution during his 50-minute address, the president said none of these policy decisions would endanger the security of the American people.

“We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people,” the president said.

“My single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said, according to prepared remarks released by the White House. “This responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm.”

The president noted that roughly 500 detainees already have been released by the Bush administration. There are 240 at Guantanamo now, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Obama sought to answer his critics, including those in Congress on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, in the speech by saying that strong national security and adherence to the laws and values of the United States are not mutually exclusive. The address comes just days after a Democratic Congress refused to authorize money for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Lawmakers said they would block the funds until the president gave a more detailed accounting of what would happen to the detainees.

The president said his administration was in the process of studying each of the remaining Guantanamo detainees “to determine the appropriate policies for dealing with them.”

On interrogation tactics, the president defended his decisions to halt techniques like waterboarding, or simulated drowning, on terrorism suspects and release Bush-era memos on the legal justification for harsh methods.

“I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more,” the president said. “As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”

President Obama also criticized of what he said was an effort to politicize security issues.

“I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These issues are fodder for 30-second commercials and direct mail pieces that are designed to frighten. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions from within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes,” he said.

The president said he had no intention of looking back and “relitigating the policies” of the Bush administration.

Shortly after President Obama ended his speech Thursday, former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a speech to the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where he offered his critique of how the Obama administration has handled anti-terror policy since the inauguration.

Listen to former Vice President Cheney’s speech:

Click here to read the transcript of his speech.

Expressing no remorse for the actions the Bush White House had ordered, Cheney said under the same circumstances he would make the same decisions “without hesitation.”

Cheney also criticized President Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo as one made with “little deliberation and no plan.”

Cheney said the Bush administration’s policies were rooted in a determination not to forget the terrible toll of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that the administration was driven by a desire to ensure Sept. 11 did not become “a prelude to something worse.”

Cheney praised President Obama for two “wise” decisions — his handling of the war in Afghanistan and his decision to try to block the court-ordered release of detainee-abuse photos. “He deserves our support” for such actions, Cheney said.