Gitmo commission move the latest in a long line of Obama shifts
A detainee walks through the recreation yard at the detention center for 'enemy combatants' on September 15, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
April 4th, 2011
01:54 PM ET
4 years ago

Gitmo commission move the latest in a long line of Obama shifts

Washington (CNN) - Those who have followed President Obama's stance on which court is appropriate to try accused terrorists can be forgiven for getting a severe case of whiplash.

After all, it was candidate Obama in 2008 who made clear he intended to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year of his presidency and put an end to military commissions there – the proceedings that extend only limited trial rights to accused terrorists. Then, it was President Obama who quickly signed an order calling for Guanatanomo's close while his Justice Department soon vowed that, in the interest of justice, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 terrorists will be tried in civilian courts.


But three years later – the same day Obama formally announced his reelection bid – Attorney General Eric Holder announced the alleged 9/11 terrorists will in fact not be tried in a civilian court but instead in a military trial at Guantanamo – the same court in the same facility Obama long ago promised would be shuttered.

The seeming about-face might, more than anything else, be a dramatic affirmation of the old axiom, "You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose."

It was a prediction none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney – an ardent defender of the use of military commissions – made shortly into Obama's presidency:

"I think the president will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come," he said during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in 2009.

So what exactly did candidate Obama say in 2008 when it came to trying accused terrorists?

First, he was going to close Guantanamo, calling it an ineffective "legal black hole:"

"By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been a failure. Over the course of nearly seven years, there has not been a single conviction for a terrorist act at Guantanamo. There has just been one conviction for material support of terrorism," he said in June of 2008. "Meanwhile, this legal black hole has substantially set back America's ability to lead the world against the threat of terrorism, and undermined our most basic values. But make no mistake: we are less safe because of the way George Bush has handled this issue."

Then, he was going to restore habeas corpus rights to alleged terrorists:

"Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy. We cannot afford to lose any more valuable time in the fight against terrorism to a dangerously flawed legal approach," he also said in June of 2008.

Promising to return America to the "moral high ground" in the war on terrorism, Obama issued a high profile executive order in his first official day as president that required the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year.

But last month, the president signed a very different executive order - one that resumed military trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Still, White House officials insisted nonetheless the president "remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."

Despite that order, civil liberty advocates took solace in the fact the president and his justice department at least appeared to stand behind their vow to try accused terrorists in civilian courts.

That was, until Holder's expected announcement Monday.

The president's primary concern is that the accused perpetrators "be brought to justice as swiftly as possible," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday in response to questions of the apparent about-face.


Filed under: Guantanamo Bay • President Obama
soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. Craigter

    The liberals' make believe fantasy world slams into reality. Hoping that the rose colored glasses are permanently broken so that they may see clearly now.

    April 4, 2011 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. Grace

    Another Obama promise gone by the wayside. I guess Dick Cheney was right; notwithstanding all the criticism of President Bush by Senator Obama, President Obama is continuing the Bush policies on Gitmo, rendition, FISA, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, tax cuts for the rich, etc, etc. If I can't trust anything Senator Obama might have said, how can I trust anything President Obama might say.

    April 4, 2011 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  3. Kathy

    It's not worth wasting time on libs as their egos are far too large to admit a mistake. It's the independents that mustn't fall for this "new" Obama He's a hard core leftist and will finish the job he started if reelected.

    April 4, 2011 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. Radiant

    Well, the psy-ops seem to be working well on President Obama. Heck of a job, Barry!

    April 4, 2011 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  5. Grimmi

    Tom Joad...it adds up to breaking a promise because he could have closed it if he and the libtards wanted to. Congress was totally controlled by the Democrats...he is a democrat....a democrat promise was broken by democrats...period.

    April 4, 2011 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  6. Proud member of "Global Zero"

    When congress will not pass funding to have a civil trial...how is this the Presidents fault. He tried for 2 years to do it right..,.even his own party would not vote to fund the trials. Why do you keep posting misleading headlines? We are paying attention are you???

    April 4, 2011 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  7. Keith

    The President kept his promise by doing everything he could to keep his promise. The congress blocked it. The President even issued the executive order to close Gitmo. The Congress kept it open. The President made every effort to try and prosecure Mohammed in civilian court, but Congress blocked it by making it impossible for Mohammed to be held in civil detention. Given Congress' every effort to smear US credibility in response to irrational public fear driven by FauxNews and the conservative rant machine, the President is systematically working to give the detainees at least some measure of justice by given them their day in court. This all would have been far far easier if Bush, Cheney, and Rummy had not illegally tortured the detainees.

    April 4, 2011 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  8. phoenix86

    Anyone who believes anything Obama says belongs in Gitmo.

    April 4, 2011 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  9. rammrodd

    It was easy for obama to promise unicorns and rainbows in 08 since he had no record. Now he will have to run from his record and that won't be easy. Thanks obama for paving the way for 8 years of GOP rule...

    April 4, 2011 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  10. a2rjr

    Oh. Big surprise there. It would be a surprise if he told the truth.

    April 4, 2011 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  11. Bill

    Whats that sound? Eric Holder's nazi army (formerly the DOJ) marching toward CNN for questioning the president.

    April 4, 2011 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  12. jimbo

    It should be noted that it was a democrat controlled congress that nixed the idea of trying these muslim terrorists in NYC.

    Eric Holder should be saying: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the reason Gitmo is still open

    Come to think of it, Nancy and Harry are also the reason why we're still trying to finish the 2011 budget.

    April 4, 2011 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  13. Shotzbot

    Yet another example that there is no differance between the democrats or the republicans, both parties are owned by the special interests of this country, not the PEOPLE.

    April 4, 2011 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  14. Larry L

    As huge Obama fan I am sorry to see this situation. He looks too much like a Republican when he passively supports holding prisoners of war without charges or trial. Changing their name to "enemy combatants" doesn't change a thing. I'll bet the Soviet Union changed the classification of those they held in the gulags. It would be easier to be critical if the Senate didn't block every initiative the President supports. The Party of No has blocked everything the President has tried to do to help America, this is just one more example.

    April 4, 2011 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  15. Sue

    Don't forget Obama also extended Bush's Patriot Act and extended the Bush tax cuts as well.

    Only blind, clueless, and gullible Obama drones still believe anything that comes out of Obama's mouth.

    April 4, 2011 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  16. Ken

    I am of the opinion that the President wanted to and still wants to put these monsters on trial in our Justice system rather than the Military system, however, Congress has opposed everything this President has tried to do. In the case of the prisoners at GITMO, he signed an Executive Order to close GITMO. then Congress refused to funding the cost of housing them on US soil along with the cost of such a transfer to an American prison. Then Congress eliminated the use of funds for any civilian trial on US soil. That having been done, there was nothing the administration could do other than put them on trial at GITMO or out right release them, which he is not going to do. I do not consider this action as a broken promise. If people want to blame someone for this they should blame Democrats and Republicans in Congress for defunding all funds for transport to American soil and for defunding funds to pay for any federal trial in civilian courts.

    April 4, 2011 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  17. TOTUS 4 PRESIDENT

    I'm trying to think of any promises that the former Anointed One has NOT broken. Hmmm ... nope, none. He's broken them all.

    April 4, 2011 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  18. nate

    The President can't try these terrorist since the Repubican dominated congress won't release funds to try terrorist in civilian court. If you're serious about convicting these terroist which is the more likely scenario to convict A or B ?

    A : 828 people on terrorism charges in civilian courts by Bush W. after 9/11. Pending trials left: 235. Convictions, 523. Conviction rate 88%.

    B: 20 military tribunals by Bush W. Convictions, 3. Conviction rate 15%.
    One conviction, of Salim Hamdan, by a military jury, was for 5 1/2 years. And today the man is in Yemen.

    April 4, 2011 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  19. Frank

    Another rookie mistake.

    2012 – 4 more years and still terribly unqualified to lead, serve, or get the hell out of the way...

    April 4, 2011 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  20. Todd

    This Administration is SHAMEFUL in it's politicization of the tragedy of 9/11! This announcement, the day before Congress would have FORCED the Administration's hand, hours after Obama announces his re-election bid is disgraceful. Unfortunately, this Marxist bunch in the White House has not an ounce of shame. Chicago thug politics at it's ugliest.

    April 4, 2011 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  21. abqTim

    Yep, knew he was too unexperienced to be a prsident. Can't believe all the idiots who voted for him.

    April 4, 2011 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  22. kstarlin

    What most people seem to forget is that when someone is running for office, they don't have all the intel that the president does. Once Obama got into office and began to get the REAL INFORMATION, not the stuff we all get on CNN and FOX, they make very similar decisions regardless of party. You can bash Bush all you want but we see that a very different leader make very similar decisions when presented with all the information. They both know things that we will NEVER know, and sometimes decisions are made that are unpopular, but RIGHT. Their main job is to protect our country.

    April 4, 2011 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  23. abnguy

    I'm glad he admitted he was wrong and has finally made the right decision.

    April 4, 2011 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  24. Mary Baxter

    He is making the better decision regarding Gitmo after learning on the job. I would respect it more if he would admit that he didn't understand world politics and, along with most Democrats, was very eager to brutally criticize and ridicule Bush for everything Bush did. Only turns out that we are still fighting in the same places, Gitmo is still open and the Obama administration spent mor money in his first 2 years than Bush did in his 8 years. When will we ever learn that socialism doesn't work?

    April 4, 2011 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
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